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Ruby Dee

Photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1962
Born Ruby Ann Wallace
October 27, 1924 (1924-10-27) (age 85)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Occupation Actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, activist
Years active 1943–present
Spouse(s) Frankie Dee Brown (approx 1941-1945; divorced)
Ossie Davis (1948-2005; his death)

Ruby Dee (born October 27, 1924) is an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist.


Early years

Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace, a cook, waiter, and porter. After her mother left the family, Dee's father married Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher.[1][2][3][4] Dee grew up in Harlem, New York. She attended Hunter College High School and went on to graduate from Hunter College with degrees in French and Spanish in 1945. Dee is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.


Ruby Dee in 2006

Dee made several appearances on Broadway before receiving national recognition for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story. Her career in acting has crossed all major forms of media over a span of eight decades, including the films A Raisin in the Sun, in which she recreated her stage role as a suffering housewife in the projects, and Edge of the City. She played both roles opposite Sidney Poitier. During the 1960s, Dee appeared in such politically charged films as Gone Are the Days and The Incident, which is recognized as helping pave the way for young African-American actors and filmmakers.

She appeared in one episode of The Golden Girls' sixth season. Dee has been nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning once for her role in the 1990 TV film Decoration Day.[5] She was nominated for her television guest appearance in the China Beach episode, "Skylark." Her husband Ossie Davis (1917-2005) also appeared in that episode. In 1995, she and her husband were awarded the National Medal of Arts.[6] They were also recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004.

In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was tied between Dee and Ossie Davis for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.

She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster. She won the SAG award for the same performance. At 83 years old, Dee is currently the second oldest nominee for Best Supporting Actress, behind Gloria Stuart who was 87 for her role in Titanic. This was Dee's first nomination.

Personal life and activism

Ruby Wallace married blues singer Frankie Dee in the mid 1940s but later divorced him and married actor Ossie Davis.

Together, Dee and Davis wrote an autobiography in which they discuss their political activism as well as insights on their open marriage.[7] Together they had three children; son, blues musician Guy Davis, and two daughters, Nora Day, and Hasna Muhammad. Dee has survived breast cancer for more than 30 years.

Dee and Davis were well-known civil rights activists. Among others, Dee is a member of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dee and Davis were personal friends of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, with Davis giving the eulogy at Malcom's funeral in 1965.

In November 2005 Dee was awarded along with her late husband the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis, TN. Dee, who is a long time resident of New Rochelle, New York, was inducted into the Westchester County Women’s Hall of Fame on March 30, 2007 joining the ranks with past honorees, Hillary Clinton, Sally Ziegler and Nita Lowey.[8] In 2009 she received an Honorary Degree from Princeton University.




Short subjects:

  • Lorraine Hansberry: The Black Experience in the Creation of Drama (1975)
  • The Torture of Mothers (1980)
  • Tuesday Morning Ride (1995)
  • The Unfinished Journey (1999) (narrator)
  • The New Neighbors (2009) (narrator)


Stage productions


  • The Original Read-In for Peace in Vietnam (Folkways Records, 1967)
  • What if I am a Woman?, Vol. 1: Black Women's Speeches (Folkways, 1977)
  • What if I am a Woman?, Vol. 2: Black Women's Speeches (Folkways, 1977)
  • Every Tone a Testimony (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001)

Awards and nominations

  • 1961: National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress – A Raisin in the Sun
  • 1971: Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance – Boesman and Lena
  • 1971: Obie Award for Best Performance by an Actress – Boesman and Lena
  • 1973: Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance – Wedding Band
  • 1991: Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini–Series or TV Movie – Decoration Day
  • 2001: Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2007: Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album- With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together
  • 2008: African–American Film Critics Best Supporting Actress – American Gangster
  • 2008: Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role – American Gangster
  • 1993: Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – Evening Shade
  • 2002: Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Actress – Saint Lucy's Eyes
  • 2008: Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role – American Gangster
  • 2008: Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – American Gangster
  • 2008: Satellite Award Best Supporting Actress – American Gangster
  • 2008: Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture – American Gangster
  • 2009: Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance by a Female Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries - America
  • 2010: Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Event - America


  • Davis, Ossie; Ruby Dee (1984) (Audio Cassette). Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears. Caedmon. ISBN 9780694511877. 
  • Dee, Ruby (1986). My One Good Nerve: Rhythms, Rhymes, Reasons. Third World Press. ISBN 088378114X. 
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow. ISBN 9780688153960. 


  1. ^ Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). "Ruby Is Born at Seven". With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow. ISBN 0688175821. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  2. ^ Gates, Henry Louis (2005). Arts and Letters: An A-To-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African American Experience. Running Press. ISBN 0762420421. 
  3. ^ Lyman, Darryl (2005). Great African-American Women. Jonathan David Company, Inc. ISBN 0824604598. 
  4. ^ "Ruby Dee Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  5. ^ "Ruby Dee Awards". The Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  6. ^ Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
  7. ^ "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". Retrieved 2008-07-30. 
  8. ^ Staff writers (2007-03-06). "Ruby Dee To Be Named To Women's Hall Of Fame". Archived from the original on 2007-03-06. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 

External links

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