Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: United States Rep. David Scott (D - Georgia)


* African American actress
* Anti-war activist
* Signatory to the Not In Our Name statement condemning the war on terror
* Supporter of communism & socialism
* Supporter of the atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
* Wife of the late actor Ossie Davis
* Died in June 2014


Ruby Dee was born as Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 27, 1922, and was raised in Harlem, New York. Her mother was a domestic worker, while her father was employed variously as a cook, waiter, and porter. After her mother left the family, Ruby’s father married a schoolteacher named Emma Amelia Benson.

Ruby became interested in acting during her teenage years. She then served an apprenticeship with the American Negro Theatre and began making appearances on Broadway.

Ruby’s movie debut was in the 1939 film What A Guy. After that, she appeared in scores of additional film and television productions, of which some — like Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) and Jungle Fever (1991) — centered around the subject of race. Other notable roles included her performances in Edge of the City (1957) and A Raisin in the Sun (1961). For a detailed overview of her work in the stage, film, and television industries, click here.

In 1941, Ruby married blues singer Frankie Dee Brown and began using the latter’s middle name as her stage surname. Though the marriage ended in divorce in 1945, Ruby would continue to go by the surname Dee for the rest of her life.

Ruby Dee graduated from Hunter College in 1944 with degrees in Spanish and French. When she auditioned in 1945 for the Broadway play Jeb, she met fellow actor Ossie Davis on the set. The two quickly became a couple, and they married in 1948. They subsequently had three children together: Guy Davis, Nora Day, and Hasna Muhammad.

Leftwing Activist

Dee and Davis went on to become dedicated activists for all manner of leftwing causes. Indeed, Dee would later describe herself and her husband as “foot soldiers, ready, willing and able to do our part in the struggle.”

According to, Dee and Davis “supported the most radical wings of the Black liberation movement, such as the [Communist Party]-led Civil Rights Congress, as early as 1946.”

In the 1950s, Dee and Davis were outspoken supporters of atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and publicly campaigned for a stay of the Rosenbergs’ executions. As Dee later wrote in With Ossie & Ruby, the autobiography that she and Davis published in 1998: “I don’t remember how I happened to be asked to speak [at a rally for the Rosenbergs]. I do know that I was tremendously moved by the fact that two small children might be left without their parents. Spies are executed in time of war. We were not at war. I was baffled. What was going on behind the headlines here?”

Throughout the 1960s, Dee was active in political and civil rights demonstrations. Along with her husband, she befriended and rallied alongside such iconic figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She and Davis served as masters of ceremonies at the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Also in 1963, Dee and Davis established the Association of Artists for Freedom, which held fundraisers for the Black Panther Party.

In the Sixties as well, both Dee and Davis were active in the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In 1965, Dee and Davis both spoke at the funeral of Malcolm X in Harlem, New York.

In November 1965, Dee and Ossie Davis were sponsors of the “March on Washington for Peace in Vietnam,” which was attended by 25,000 anti-war demonstrators and was organized by the Students for a Democratic Society.

In 1965 as well, Dee and Davis participated in a September 24th “Sing-In for Peace” concert at Carnegie Hall.

On February 20, 1966, the couple took part in a “Read-In for Peace in Vietnam.”

Dee and Davis were also signatories to the 1966 “Voters’ Pledge Campaign” (VPC) vowing to support antiwar political candidates. Other notable signers of the VPC petition included Roger Baldwin, Julian Bond, Erich Fromm, Michael Harrington, John Lewis, Thomas Merton, B.F. Skinner, and Benjamin Spock.

Dee and Davis both spoke at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

On another occasion, Dee and Davis attended a rally in honor of the Fidel Castro regime’s Communist revolutionary, Che Guevara.

In the 1970s and 80s, Dee took to protesting against the growth of America’s military capabilities and its nuclear arsenal. Toward that end, she served on the Committee of Sponsors for a March 28, 1982 gala luncheon titled “We Will Make Peace Prevail! Disarmament Over Confrontation, Life Over Death.” The event was held at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City and was organized by New World Review, a Communist Party USA (CPUSA) publication. Virtually all of those who attended the luncheon were affiliated with the CPUSA.

In 1994, Dee was an initiator of the International Peace for Cuba Appeal, an affiliate of the International Action Center. Other noteworthy initiators included Philip Agee, Noam Chomsky, John Conyers, and Charles Rangel.

Dee was an endorser of an October 1998 Brecht Forum event at Cooper Union in New York City, titled the “Communist Manifestivity to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto.”

In 1998 as well, 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.”

In 1999, Dee and Davis were both arrested while protesting the fatal shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo by New York City police.

Eight days after the al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 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.”[1]

In 2002, Dee served on the Advisory Board of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

Also in 2002, Dee signed the Not In Our Name (NION) anti-war “Statement of Conscience.” Drafted by members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, this document specifically condemned the George W. Bush administration’s “stark new measures of repression” and its “unjust, immoral, illegitimate, [and] openly imperial policy towards the world.”

In the early 2000s, Dee participated in numerous anti-war demonstrations organized by groups like International ANSWER and United For Peace and Justice.

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 exhorted the American public to support such organizations as MoveOn, U.S. Labor Against War, United for Peace and Justice, and Win Without War.[2]

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

In 2009, Dee and other supporters of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal launched a “” campaign calling for a federal civil rights investigation into Mumia’s case. Other backers of the campaign included Cornel West and Charles Rangel.


Dee died of natural causes on June 11, 2014, in New Rochelle, New York.

Additional Information

In 1995, Dee and Ossie Davis were jointly awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton.

In 2000, Dee won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.

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

In 2005, Dee received a lifetime achievement award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

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


  1. 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
  2. Dee’s fellow signers included Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Ossie Davis, Manning Marable, Robert Meeropol, Michael RatnerPete Seeger, and Tim Wise.

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