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The legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee passed away on June 11, 2004 at the age of 91. Dee was born in 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in Harlem. Throughout her life, she was forced to deal with the hardships of segregation and inequality, but she did so with a sense of grace, grit, and courage that few others have.
During a time when many African-American women were relegated to being second-class citizens both in life and in theater and Hollywood, Dee forged a path for all black women, not just as an actress, but also as a poet, activist, playwright, screenwriter, and journalist.
Although her Hollywood career spanned seven decades and earned her multiple awards, Dee’s role as an activist was just as significant. Dee’s activist work began at age 11, when she spoke at a rally held for her music teacher who had committed suicide in response to losing her job as a result of funding cuts.
Over the years, Dee served as a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Dee delivered a stirring reading at Marin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington in 1963. She also emceed the event.
Dee and her husband Ossie Davis were close friends of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and Davis gave the eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral in 1965. The pair were arrested in 1999 for protesting the police shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo. In November 2005, Dee and Davis were awarded the National Civil Rights Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award.
The following clip is from a two-hour special Dee completed with her husband Ossie Davis with Bill Moyer in 1984. The special was called The Second American Revolution and focused on the civil rights movement. In the clip, Dee discusses the ongoing racism that “has trampled” the self-esteem of black people and “numbed (their) hope.” Watch below to see what she has to say.