Tuesday, June 17, 2014
REMEMBERING ACTRESS, POET, ACTIVIST RUBY DEE
Ruby Dee with Ossie Davis and their children.
Statement from the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
I have longed to see my talent contributing in an unmistakably clear manner to the cause of humanity. Every artist, every scientist, must decide NOW where he stands. He has no alternative. (Paul Robeson, Royal Albert Hall, June 24, 1937).
It has been one of my great blessings in life to work with two of the finest artists and activists. Ruby and Ossie served as a living example that one could be an artist and an activist, too: that one could be an artist and still deal with what it means to be a Black woman and a Black man in these United States. (Spike Lee quoted on NPR, June 12, 2014).
We used the arts as part of our struggle. (Ruby Dee in Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, cited in Mark Kennedy, “Ruby Dee’s Legacy of Activism, Acting Mourned,” Charletteobserver.com, June 12, 2014).
A powerful link in the chain of great African American scholars, artists, and activists from the twentieth century, Ruby Dee died June 11, 2011. Dee was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1924 and as a child was moved to Harlem. Growing up she studied romance languages at Hunter College, gravitated toward the American Negro Theatre in Harlem and began long collaborations with fellow actors such as Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and her husband of 57 years, Ossie Davis.
She appeared in 50 films, 40 television shows, and 35 stage performances. She received numerous awards for these performances and as recently as 2008 was nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture, “American Gangster,” She was recognized by nominations for Screen Actors Guild and Image Awards in 2009 and 2010. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis received Kennedy Center Honors Awards presented by President Clinton in 2004.
Ruby Dee came from that generation of artists who. inspired by Paul Robeson, believed that she had to take a stand for human liberation. She was an active supporter of anti-colonial struggles abroad and civil rights struggles at home. She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She and her husband, Ossie Davis, were friends and collaborators in the struggle for the freedom of African Americans with both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. Dee was a contributing editor to the great journal of African American thought, Freedomways.
Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis’ participation in peoples’ struggles were life-long. As recently as 1999 the couple was arrested at the New York City police headquarters protesting the brutal police shooting of Amadou Diallo. In addition, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were members of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) advisory board.
Ruby Dee, her husband, Harry Belafonte, and their mentor Paul Robeson articulated often their beliefs that there was a connection between the arts and politics and that the arts could serve as a weapon for social justice. In addition, these artist/activists believed that their engagement required combining struggles against the exploitation of the working class, the sexism of the patriarchal system, and institutionalized racism.
During her lifetime Ruby Dee was a participant and supporter of movements for human liberation. CCDS and all progressives everywhere will miss her determined activism and her artistry as an actress and poet.