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Remembering Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

On this edition of In Black America, producer/host John L. Hanson Jr. speaks with the late Ossie Davis and Rudy Dee.

OssieDavis and Ruby Dee were legendary stars of stage, television, and film, a beloved and revered couple cherished not just for their acting artistry but also for their lifelong commitment to civil rights, family values, and the African American community. In this revealing book - they look back on a half- century of their personal and political struggles to maintain a healthy marriage and to create the record of distinguished accomplishment that earned each a Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

With Ossie and Ruby overflows with consummate storytelling skill developed by decades in the spotlight. From their early years as struggling actors in Harlem's black theater to Broadway and Hollywood stardom, they regale the reader with colorful, entertaining tales of the places they've been and the people they've met. But their charming humor is leavened with a more serious side, as they share their experiences of keeping a family together in a world where scandal and divorce is the rule, and of being artists and political activists in an era of intense racial ferment. Born into the struggle, their characters were shaped by the dynamic collisions of life, politics, and art; and from those experiences, they achieved some sense of their worth as married people, friends, and lovers.

Their work has always explored and celebrated the lessons of African American history in this country, making them, over the decades, an inspiration and iconic presence in contemporary African American culture. In 1976, they produced and Davis directed Countdown to Kusini, the first American feature to be shot entirely in Africa by African American professionals. Through their company, Emmalyn Enterprises, they produced the 1986 PBS special "Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum." Also for PBS, they created the 1980-82 series "With Ossie and Ruby," and produced "A Walk Through the Twentieth Century with Bill Moyers" in 1984. Both received the NAACP Image Awards for their 1996 CBS series "Promised Land," and delivered intense performances in Roots: The Next Generation. Their joint autobiography published in 2000, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together, recounts their work together, not only in the arts, but also as artists at the forefront of political activism, ranging from their strong opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunt to their tireless work on behalf of civil rights, voting rights and equal rights for all.

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee met in 1945, when they were both performing in the same play on Broadway; Davis, resuming an acting career that had been interrupted by a World War II tour of duty in Liberia, was cast as the male lead, while Dee was originally hired as understudy to the female lead and soon found herself taking over the part. Three years later, still working together, they took advantage of a rehearsal-free day in their schedule to get married--and stayed together through thick and thin until their death.

Ossie Davis died on February 4, 2005. He was 87. Rudy Dee died on June 11, 2014. She was 91.

John L. Hanson is the producer and host of the nationally syndicated radio series In Black America. It’s heard on home station KUT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 a.m. Sundays — and weekly on close to 20 stations across the country. The weekly podcast of IBA, the only nationally broadcast Black-oriented public affairs radio program, is one of KUT’s most popular podcasts.