I say and say again: actors give breath and life to the words of poets, playwrights, and screen writers. Ruby Dee, a great American actor, has died. We will miss her because the breath she breathed into words contained our own hopes, dreams, fears, anger, and love. Ruby Dee was great because her art was not for its own sake; it was for the sake of humanity becoming both more human and more divine.
Her long career started in the 1940s when opportunities for African-American women to play more than a servant were few and far between. In the 1960s she played Cordelia in King Lear and Kate in Taming of the Shrew. She became the first African-American woman to play major roles in the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.
One of her most memorable roles was as Ruth in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Ruby Dee played the role in 1959 on stage and again in 1961 in the film version. She continued her long career on stage, screen, and television well into her elder years. She was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as the mother of a drug smuggler in the 2007 film American Gangster.