A Tribute to the Legendary Ruby Dee
Photo: Ruby Dee, 1962 Sept. 25. Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress.
When I think about how the African American experience shapes the American character, I easily think of the brilliant life and career of Ruby Dee. We lost her, at age 91, late Wednesday night, creating a heart-breaking vacuum because she gave us so many lessons as an actress and social activist.
Yes, she had a long life. Yet it seems incredible that this petite, determined woman worked in so many arenas covering seven decades. In the theater and on film, she brought to life, the words of Lorraine Hansberry, Athol Fugard, William Shakespeare, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou and Ossie Davis, her husband, an unforgettable actor and activist, of 56 years.
We are grateful that she was recognized by many during her lifetime. Who can forget “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Buck and the Preacher” and “Do The Right Thing.” As an entertainment pioneer, she made history and helped move history forward. Never one on the sidelines, Dee stood up for, and befriended, Paul Robeson, Martin L. King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She emceed the landmark March on Washington in 1963 and bravely fought for equality in all aspects of American life.
NMAAHC video brochure narrated by Ruby Dee.
It was only natural that Dee became a champion of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and agreed to narrate our video brochure. She knew the importance of history, as a witness and participant, and she understood our mission to pass on all aspects of our story to future generations.
In her melodic enunciation, she spoke of “the black past is a wonderful but unforgiving mirror.” She preached about the challenge to always “fight the good fight.”
In addition to her flawless acting, her grace, insight and courage are the gifts she leaves us. We will always have her voice urging us to treat everyone right, and not be left out of the American story.
Written by Lonnie G. Bunch III, Founding Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.