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RUBY DEE Printer Friendly Page
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  • African American actress
  • Anti-war activist
  • Signatory to the Not In Our Name statement condemning the war on terror
  • Wife of the late actor Ossie Davis
  • Died in June 2014



Ruby Dee was an NAACP Image Award-winning actress and a longtime political and social activist.

Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio in October 1924, Dee was raised in Harlem, New York. She graduated from Hunter College in 1945 with degrees in Spanish and French.

Dee’s acting debut was in the 1939 film What A Guy. Since then, she has appeared in more than 90 television and film productions. She starred in a number of movies where the subject of race was the central theme, including Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991) and Do The Right Thing (1989). Other notable roles include her performances in A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and Edge of the City (1957).

In 1948 Dee married Ossie Davis, an actor and fellow leftwing activist who would co-star with her in a number of films. Dee would later describe her husband and herself as "foot soldiers, ready, willing and able to do [our] part in the struggle." Dee and Davis were passionate antiwar activists during the Vietnam War, and again in the post-9/11 era.

In 1998, Dee and Davis penned their autobiography, With Ossie and Ruby, in which they discussed at length their political activism as well their decision to have an "open marriage." The pair also collaborated on a number of other publications, including: Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-tales From the Gulf States (2001); We Shall Overcome: The History of the Civil Rights Movement As It Happened (2004); and Life Lit by Some Large Vision: Selected Speeches and Writings (2006).

In the 1950s, Dee was an outspoken supporter of atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and publicly campaigned for a stay of their executions.

Throughout the 1960s, Dee was active in political and civil rights demonstrations. Along with her husband, she befriended and rallied alongside civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.  She served as a master of ceremonies at King’s 1963 March on Washington.

In the 1970s and 80s, Dee took to protesting against the growth of America's military capabilities and its nuclear arsenal.

Eight days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Dee lent her name to a Statement titled “Justice not Vengeance,” which called on the U.S. to eschew a military response, and to instead bring the perpetrators to justice in a courtroom. The Statement read, in part:

“We foresee that a military response would not end the terror. Rather, it would spark a cycle of escalating violence, the loss of innocent lives, and new acts of terrorism. As citizens of this great nation, we support the efforts being made to find those behind the acts of terror. Bringing them to justice under the rule of law -- not military action -- is the way to end the violence.... The laws that protect our civil liberties and freedoms in the United States are part of what define us as a nation. They must not be abridged; to do so would offer victory to those who wrought these vengeful acts.”

Other notable signatories to the “Justice not Vengeance” Statement included: Harry Belafonte, John Cavanagh, Medea Benjamin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Mike Farrell, Margaret Gage, Danny Glover, Randy Hayes, Michael Klare, Michael Lerner, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Ratner, Edward Said, Martin Sheen, Gloria Steinem, Cora Weiss, and Ossie Davis.

In 2002, Dee joined such celebrities as Ed Asner, Oliver Stone, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda, Pete Seeger, Spike LeeBonnie Raitt, and Gore Vidal in signing the Not In Our Name (NION) anti-war "Statement of Conscience." Drafted by members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, this Statement specifically condemned the Bush Administration's "stark new measures of repression" and its "unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world."

Preceding the 2004 presidential election, Dee was a signatory to “Bush Can Be Stopped: A Letter to the Left,” which aimed to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush. The letter stated:

"The Bush Administration … has demolished whatever minimal stability has been achieved in treaties and agreements over the last half century to reduce the threat of nuclear war. It openly seeks world domination through military force and preemptive war … Its arrogant and reckless quest for a new US empire is inflamed by a frightening fundamentalist religious zeal. The Bush Administration is conducting a cruel war on the poor while outrageously lining the pockets of its corporate supporters…. Using its fraudulent ‘war on terrorism’ and playing on the public’s fears after 9/11, the Bush Administration has savaged the rights of immigrants and foreign nationals, has fanned racism, conducted arrests without warrants … and is now preparing an even more repressive Patriot Act II while packing the courts with compliant right-wing ideologues."

The letter also appealed for the public to support such organizations as MoveOn, US Labor Against War, United for Peace and Justice, and Win Without War. Dee's fellow signers included Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Ossie Davis, Manning Marable, Robert Meeropol, Michael RatnerPete Seeger, and Tim Wise.

At various times in her life, Dee was a member of the nuclear-disarmament organization Urgent Call, the NAACP, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the 1960s she was a member of the (now defunct) Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Dee participated in numerous anti-war demonstrations organized by groups like International ANSWER and United For Peace and Justice.

In 2004, Dee and Ossie Davis were co-recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, an award given annually to performing artists.

Dee and Davis parented three children: Guy Davis, Nora Day, and Hasna Muhammad.

In 2008, Dee won a Screen Actors Guild award and was nominated for an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress” for her portrayal of the mother of a heroin kingpin in the film American Gangster.

Though she did not formally endorse a candidate for the 2008 presidential election, Dee expressed considerable enthusiasm for Barack Obama, who she said possesses "a spiritual edge ... that I'd like to see the country explore."

Dee died of natural causes on June 11, 2014.

 

 

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