Brow Beat

What I Thought of When I Heard That Ruby Dee Had Died

Ruby Dee in 2006

Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Legend of stage and screen Ruby Dee passed away Wednesday evening at the age of 91. Cleveland–born and New York–raised, Dee broke down walls and made a name for herself at a time where there weren’t many opportunities for black women on stage or on the screen.

Her body of work is bountiful and varied. She inaugurated the role of Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, opposite Sidney Poitier, and later played the part on screen as well. She was Mother Sister in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. She wrote or co-wrote several books. She was an activist. She was nominated for eight Emmy Awards. She was nominated for an Oscar in 2007 for her role in American Gangster.

But when I heard that she had died, the first thing that came to mind was a 1995 production she starred in with her husband, Ossie Davis, called Two Hah Hahs and a Homeboy. (Davis died in 2005.) One of the most poignant moments in the production is a monologue titled “When I’m Gone.” The couple shares the stage, bathed in soft light, and Dee instructs her partner how to react when she returns to the essence. “Beg God to bring me back,” she says, chuckling, “and give you another chance.” Sounds about right.