Legendary actress and civil rights activist, Ruby Dee, dies at 91

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Sandy Kenyon remembers award winning actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee ("A Raisin in the Sun", "Do The Right Thing, "American Gangster") (WABC)

Legendary actress and civil rights Ruby Dee died peacefully at her New Rochelle, NY home last night. She was 91.

Her family was by her side when she passed away and released the following statement: "We were blessed to have been by her side during her transition. We let her know that we loved her, that we love each other, and that if she let go, we would be OK. We are honored by the rich legacy that she and our father left in our care. Our charge is to share the love and to remain worthy."

Ms. Dee had a long career on Broadway and in her honor, the marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in her memory tomorrow night, Friday, June 13th, at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.

Dee left her mark on Hollywood too and is well known for her starring role in the 1960's film "A Raisin in the Sun." She also starred in several Spike Lee movies including 1989's "Do the Right Thing" and 1992's "Jungle Fever," her most recent star turn in the 2007 film "American Gangster" (in which she played Denzel Washington's character's mother) earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

She also earned accolades for her work on the small screen: winning an Emmy as supporting actress in a miniseries or special for 1990's "Decoration Day."

A modern-day Renaissance woman, Dee was also a poet and screenwriter and won awards across many other fields. She won a National Medal of the Arts in 1995; a Grammy along with her husband Ossie Davis, for best spoken word album in 2007, and received the National Medal of Arts in 1995.

She along with her husband were active in the Civil Rights movement and in November 2005 they were both awarded the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis.

Davis and Dee met in 1945 when she auditioned for the Broadway play "Jeb," which Davis starred in. A couple of years later in December 1948, on a break from rehearsals for another play, they took a bus together to New Jersey and got married. Dee later wrote in their joint autobiography, "In This Life Together," "it felt almost like an appointment we finally got around to keeping."

They were partners in life and in career and worked together in 11 stage productions and 5 movies. They also created a radio show together "The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour," that featured a mix of black themes. Davis directed one of their joint film appearances, "Countdown at Kusini" (1976).

Civil rights also galvanized the couple and they were friends with both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Dee and Davis spoke at both men's funerals and Ossie Davis' eulogy for Malcolm X was featured in Spike Lee's biopic "Malcolm X."

They remained married until Davis' death in 2005.

Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland on October 27, 1922, Dee moved with her family to New York as a small child. She graduated from a highly competitive high school and enrolled in college but her dream was to work in show business.

"I wanted to be an actor but the chances for success did not look promising," she wrote in she and Davis' autobiography.

Her big break came when she got a part in a Harlem production of the new play "On Strivers Row" in 1940.

She later hit a major milestone when she became the first African-American woman to have a leading role at the American Shakespeare Festival in 1965. She won a Drama Desk Award for her role in "Wedding Band" and an Obie Award for the title role in Athol Fugard's "Boesman and Lena."

Dee is survived by three children: Nora, Hasna and Guy, and seven grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private but a public memorial is planned.

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entertainmentfamous deathsNew Rochelle
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