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Ruby Dee (born October 27, 1924 – died June 11, 2014)[1] made a guest appearance on The Golden Girls as Viola Watkins in the Season 5 episode titled "Wham, Bam, Thank You, Mammy". A talented veteran stage/film and TV actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist, Ruby is perhaps best-known for co-starring in the film A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and her role as "Mother Sister" in the 1989 Spike Lee produced and directed film Do the Right Thing. She was married to Ossie Davis, who portrays Da Mayor in Do the Right Thing, from 1948 until his death in 2005.

Early life[]

Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio[2] to Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Nathaniel Wallace, a cook, waiter, and porter. After her mother left the family, Dee's father remarried, to Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher.

Dee, who was born in Cleveland, OH, was raised in Harlem, New York and attended Hunter College High School and went on to graduate from Hunter College with degrees in French and Spanish in 1944. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta.[3]


Ruby also won critical praise for her role as Frank Lucas's mother the film American Gangster (2007) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has won Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Awards. She is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors, among scores of others awards.

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.

Among the many appearances that she made in various television series is her role as Cora Sanders, a Marxist college professor, in the Season 1/Episode 14 of Police Woman, entitled “Target Black” which aired on Friday night, January 3, 1975. The character of Cora Sanders was obviously, but loosely, influenced by the real-life Angela Y. Davis. 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. She was nominated for her television guest appearance in the China Beach episode, "Skylark". Her husband Ossie Davis (1917–2005) also appeared in the episode.

In 1995, she and husband Ossie Davis were awarded the National Medal of Arts. They were also recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2003, she narrated a series of WPA slave narratives in the HBO film Unchained Memories. 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.

Personal life and activism[]

Ruby married blues singer Frankie Dee in the mid-1940s; the couple later divorced, but she kept his surname professionally. Three years later she married actor Ossie Davis. Together, Dee and Davis wrote an autobiography in which they discussed their political activism and other personal details about their marriage.[4] Together they had three children: son, blues musician Guy Davis, and two daughters, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad. Dee is a breast cancer survivor of more than three decades. Dee and Davis were well-known civil rights activists.[5] Dee is a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Dee and Davis were both personal friends of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, with Davis giving the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral in 1965.[6]


Dee died on June 11, 2014, at her home in New Rochelle, New York, from natural causes at the age of 91.[7] In a statement, Gil Robertson IV of the African American Film Critics Association said, "the members of the African American Film Critics Association are deeply saddened at the loss of actress and humanitarian Ruby Dee. Throughout her seven-decade career, Ms Dee embraced different creative platforms with her various interpretations of black womanhood and also used her gifts to champion for Human Rights. Her strength, courage and beauty will be greatly missed."[8]

Ruby's remains were to be cremated, and her ashes would be held in the same urn as that of Davis, with the inscription "In this thing together".


  1. Ronald Bergan, "Ruby Dee obituary", The Guardian, June 13, 2014.
  2. "Ruby Dee marks 90th birthday with new documentary about her illustrious life with late husband Ossie Davis", New York Daily News, November 13, 2012.
  3. Delta Sigma Theta website
  4. "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". Retrieved 2008-07-30.
  5. The official site of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee,; accessed March 3, 2014.
  6. Davis, Ossie (February 27, 1965). "Malcolm X's Eulogy". The Official Website of Malcolm X. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
  7. NEUMAIER, Joe (June 12, 2014). "Ruby Dee dead at 91". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  8. "Screen, stage legend Ruby Dee dies at 91". Retrieved June 12, 2014.

External links[]

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