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Ruby Dee - First Black Actress Appearing In American Shakespeare Major Roles

Updated on July 31, 2017
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna has worked in the entertainment business for over 20 years, helping to promote special events with celebrities and fundraisers.

Ossie and Ruby

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.

Easily Ruby Dee was a redoubtable strength the performing arts as well as 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

Dee earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in "American Gangster" (2007).

Born Ruby Ann Wallace, Ruby Dee presumed her last name Dee when 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

Ruby had a lustrous career on Broadway, film, radio and even television. She was revered by many both white and black. What stands out most in her career is her life with her husband Ossie Davis. They shared many common interests, such as cultural and civil rights issues.

American Gangster

Dee and Lee in Do The Right Thing

Ruby brilliant acting can also be seen in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing as Mother Sister. The 1989 film launched Lee as a director.

Davis and Dee

More Than an Actress

Ruby Dee wan 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. 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 my talented black actors.

© 2016 Kenna McHugh


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    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 22 months ago from Northern California

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

    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 22 months 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