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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 192

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This is the grave of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

Two great actors and two great activists are buried here. Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia in 1917 and Dee in Cleveland in 1922. Davis’ father was a construction engineer on the railroad, a very rare job for a black man to have in those days and a very dangerous one; the KKK threatened his life for holding it. Davis’ parents were determined their children would succeed, and they all had quite respectable to extremely successful careers. Davis went to Howard briefly, but against the will of his parents, dropped out to move to New York and go into acting. He was as successful as a black man could be in those days and was very active in the Harlem theater scene. He served in World War II in the Medical Corps, returned to New York, found his ability to get into good films as non-stereotypical characters typically limited, and finally appeared in the 1950 film No Way Out, starring Sidney Poitier.

Dee grew up in Harlem and also got involved in the theater scene there at a young age. She went to Hunter College and graduated in 1945. She had a brief first marriage that ended in divorce. She found a bit more early quality film work than he did, appearing in That Man of Mine in 1946 and received acclaim for her work in 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story.

Davis and Dee met in 1946, while working on Robert Ardrey’s play Jeb. They married in 1948 and lived a life of artistic and political freedom. Davis managed consistently decent, non-stereotyped work in the 60s and became an important black director in the 70s. He wrote a play about Paul Robeson, got a lot of roles in Spike Lee films later in life, and closed his career as the role of a father struggling to deal with his daughter coming out in The L Word. Dee had an equally varied career, moving between stage, film, and TV throughout her career, including a key role in Raisin in the Sun. An 8-time Emmy nominee, she also received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as the mother in American Gangster, which I thought was a pretty good film. She won the same award from the SAG for that role.

Dee and Davis also dedicated their life to the black freedom struggle. They were involved with many organizations, including the NAACP, CORE, SNCC, and SCLC. Dee was the emcee for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (which we should always refer to by its full name to remind everyone that economic justice was as important as every other demand made there, a fact completely ignored today) and Davis gave the eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral, a signs of just what titanic figures both were. They fought for justice their whole lives. They were arrested for protesting the murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999 and fought hard against the Iraq War in 2003, among many, many, many other things.

Davis died, probably of a heart attack, in a Miami hotel room in 2005. Dee died in 2014 at their home in New Rochelle, New York.

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee are buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York. What’s interesting about this grave is that I literally stumbled upon while looking for other people’s graves. On the internet, they are just noted as having been cremated and the ashes given to family. Well, they are here now.

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