Ruby Ann Wallace, later known as Ruby Dee, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1924. As Ruby described in With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together, her parents were teenagers who hadn’t wanted another child. They already had one son and one daughter. When Ruby was about three years old, her mother left the family “to follow a preacher man.” Her father then remarried, to a teacher named Emma.
When her father remarried, the family picked up and moved to New York City, where Ruby eventually (after earning college degrees in French and Spanish) got her start on Broadway. As has often happened in the world of acting, Hollywood came calling after Ruby’s success on the stage. After a few small roles in the late 1940s, Ruby had her breakout in 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story as Rae Robinson.
She has since become known as a multi-award-winning living legend of the stage and screen. She’s also an activist, a breast cancer survivor, a mother, a writer. In terms of activism Dee is known for her civil rights work (which is actually how I first discovered her, not as an actress but in my studies of the civil rights movement). Dee has worked with/is a member of CORE, SNCC and the NAACP among other organizations. She and her husband Ossie Davis have worked together in activist efforts, and were both personal associates of civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.
Ruby Dee is not just an actress, but a true figure of American history, and as a 20th century history nerd I am endlessly fascinated by her. The following are some of my favorite things that she’s done in all facets of her career.
Favorite film role: Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun
Favorite television role: Mother Abagail Freemantle in The Stand
“The Somebodiness of Me”