Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee – Artist Advocates for Civil Rights
As a child growing up in the late fifties and early sixties in the inner city of Chicago, a mental space was needed in order to deal with the unpleasantries of life. One of my coping mechanisms was reading and the other was television. I would get lost in the frivolous stories and imagine being part of the every cast. Of course most of the images did not look like me, but I loved them anyway. However, there were two incredible cinema images whose imprint over the years grew deeper and deeper; they were Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. These two will always remain my cinema heroes. In the seventh grade my class was given a writing assignment and the topic was about career aspirations. I chose acting and my inspiration was Ruby Dee. I wrote in my essay, “If Ruby Dee can do it so can I!” I also adored her other half Ossie Davis; he had an uncanny resemblance to my father—he could have been his older brother. After my own father died in 1981, whenever I had the opportunity to see Davis perform it made me feel a bit of my dad was still with me. When Davis died in 2005, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Davis and Dee are extraordinary people. They cared about the struggles of Black America, and in doing so I felt that they cared about me. They were the great American couple of the twenty and the twenty-first century. They were role models for aspiring actors for more than half a century. They were not only accomplished actors in theatre, film and television, but also influential in their fight against injustice, especially injustice in Black America.
Davis, shortly after he left Howard University, lived in Harlem and so did W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Phillip Randolph, James Weldon Johnson, Adam Clayton Powell, Paul Robeson, and other great influential leaders who were immersed in the struggle for equality and justice. Davis made sure he placed himself in some of the same places where these men could be found, on street corners, churches, rallies and restaurants. Davis eventually became close friends with Paul Robeson; therefore, he readily accepted several of Robeson’s political ideologies. One of these ideas was the belief in socialism and that blacks would never be free under capitalism. One could assume from being exposed for long lengths of time to these great freedom thinkers, that Davis had no other choice than to eventually pick up the mantel of the fight against racism in America himself. Imagine sitting in the early 1940’s at the feet of these great men. One has to hope if these great thinkers were alive today they would have continued to impress, inspire and move to action young minds today. In fact, the legacy they left in their writings and speeches have indeed been a marvelous roadmap to freedom thinking today.
Davis and Dee stood with Paul Robeson when being considered a Communist often meant jeopardizing their life and livelihood. They also enjoyed a personal relationship with W. E. B. Du Bois, and his influence in their lives is captured in their speeches and articles. They were civil rights activists supporting both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Davis and Dee wrote several books, plays and essays; the material they authored was often considered controversial, speaking against specific political ideology and racism in America. They were sought after speakers and addressed many audiences as keynote presenters over the years because of their known stance on relevant issues. This couple received numerous accolades in their lifetime from both artistic and political organizations. Their impact left a marvelous legacy for both artists and social activists.
Davis, Ossie and Ruby Dee. Life Lit by Some Large Vision. New York: Atria Books, 2006.Print.
Dee Davis Enterprises, Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee. 2010-2012. Ruby Dee, Web. 30, Jan 2012. (www.ossieandruby.com).