The legendary actress Ruby Dee, a woman who personified grace, grit and progress at a time when African-American women were given little space in movies and on stage, died Wednesday in New Rochelle, N.Y. She was 91.
The Cleveland-born, New York-raised actress and activist — winner of an Emmy, a Grammy and a Screen Actors Guild award, among others — not only starred on Broadway (“Take It From the Top!,’ “Two Hah Hahs and a Homeboy”), film (Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” and “Jungle Fever”), and TV (“All God’s Children,” “Feast of All Saints”), but, with her husband and collaborator Ossie Davis, was a major figure in the Civil Rights movement. In 2005, Dee and Davis received the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Freedom award. Davis died in February of that year.
Dee’s first film role came in 1949, in the musical drama “That Man of Mine.” She played Rachel Robinson in “The Jackie Robinson Story” in 1950, and costarred opposite Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt and Cab Calloway in “St. Louis Blues” (1958). In 1961, she recreated her stage triumph as Ruth Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun,” opposite Sidney Poitier, her Broadway costar. She appeared in the 1979 TV movie “Roots: The Next Generation,” and costarred with Davis in their own short-lived 1980-81 show, “Ossie and Ruby!” The two played contentious neighbors who embodied, and recalled, the social unrest of the ’60s in Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (1989). She earned her sole Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, for “American Gangster” (2007).
Her final film was the still-in-production crime drama “King Dog,” opposite Ice-T.