Ruby Dee, Actress & Civil Rights Activist, Dies at 91

We take a look back at the life of groundbreaking actress and activist Ruby Dee who died yesterday at the age of 91.
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Ruby Dee Photo

(Photo: Getty Images)

Actress Ruby Dee, the Oscar-nominated actress and Civil Rights activist whose groundbreaking career spanned over 60 years, has died of natural causes at the age of 91.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Dee grew up in Harlem, New York and trained at the American Negro Theater with actors Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. As a young stage actress, Dee landed her breakthrough role in the 1946 Broadway production of Anna Lucasta. That same year, she also performed in the play Jeb where she met actor and future husband, Ossie Davis. The couple married in 1948 and became an enduring Hollywood love story, frequently performing together onstage, in films and on their own radio show The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour, which often addressed African-American themes.

Ruby Dee Photo

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis in the Broadway show "Jeb," 1946. (Photo: John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)

Beyond her beauty and talent, Dee’s pioneering career broke barriers for African-American actors: She became the first black woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival in 1965. She was also an outspoken Civil Rights activist, alongside her husband, with whom she spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. They also attended the funerals of their friends Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A friend of baseball legend Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel, Dee starred opposite him in the 1950 biopic The Jackie Robinson Story. She also originated the role of Ruth Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

“The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.” — Ruby Dee

Dee and Davis were introduced to a new generation of movie audiences when they appeared in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing in 1989. When Davis passed away unexpectedly in 2005, Dee was devastated by the loss, but she continued to act. In 2007, she delivered an Oscar-nominated performance as the mother of drug lord Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, in American Gangster.

The legendary actress passed away surrounded by family and friends at her home in New Rochelle, New York at the age of 91.

Read Ruby Dee’s full bio.