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Ruby Dee - First Black Actress in American Shakespeare

Updated on April 10, 2018
Kenna McHugh profile image

I've written, contributed to several books on film, and worked in the film industry. I like to share the insights of the movie business.

Ruby Dee was not only an actress but a poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist.

Ossie and Ruby

A Strong Woman

Often beside her husband, the late and also talented Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee is a multiple-winning actress, lived through seven decades of accomplishments - first on stage and then on the silver screen. She lived to be a wonderful ninety-one.

Ruby Dee was a strong woman, who held her own in adversity. She set a path for the future actress of any color.

Easily Ruby Dee inner strength came through during her performing arts as well as her participation in the civil rights movement. Her dear friends were Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. In 1970, Ruby was given the Frederick Douglass Award from the National Urban League for her civil rights work.

Ruby Starred with Denzil Washington

An Oscar Nomination

Dee earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in "American Gangster" (2007) where she co-starred with Denzel Washington.

Directed and produced by Ridley Scott, the movie follows Frank Lucas, a hardened American gangster. The movie is a fictional account of his criminal career. He smuggled heroin into the United States on planes coming back from the Vietnam War.

Ruby Ann Wallace

Born Ruby Ann Wallace, Ruby Dee kept her married name Dee even though she was married for a short period of time to blues singer Frankie Dee. She ended their marriage in divorce and married Ossie Davis in 1948. Davis passed away in 2005.

Ossie and Ruby at 1989 Cannes Festival

Cultural and Civil Rights

Ruby had an acting career on Broadway, film, radio and even television. She was cherished by many both white and black. Her long and happy life with Ossie stands out the most because they shared many interests, such as cultural and civil rights issues.

American Gangster

Dee and Lee in Do The Right Thing

Ruby's talent can be seen in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing as Mother Sister. The 1989 film launched Lee as a director. The movie is a drama-comedy with Lee in the role of Mookie. Ossie Davis also starred in the movie.

Davis and Dee

More Than an Actress

Ruby Dee was not only an actress but a poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist. She starred opposite Sydney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun, where she originated the role Ruth Younger on the Broadway stage. Her list of books include children’s books as well as memoirs and spiritual reflection.

Calling All Women

Dee made great strides during the American Civil Rights movement with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her poem “Call All Women” was performed by her on the Sundance Channel. Here is a version performed by her at a friend’s memorial. The final words is hilariously so true. She is such a wonderful soul.



As mentioned before, Ruby starred in several Shakespeare plays. She was applauded for her natural aptitude and skill. Her first performance was Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew at the American Shakespeare festival in 1965. That same year she played Cordelia in King Lear. In 1975, she played Gertrude in Hamlet at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Because she was the first black actress to play a role in a Shakespeare play, she opened the door for many talented black actors.

© 2016 Kenna McHugh


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    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      2 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you Linda. I appreciate the praise. Please stay in touch.

    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 

      2 years ago from Cicero, New York

      Good morning Kenna what a super hub. So much fun to read. It was packed fill with so much fascinating content. Hung on to the words from the beginning to end. Take care. Linda


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