Her legacy features more than theatrical greatness. Dee, along with her beloved late husband Ossie Davis, devoted their lives to promoting liberal causes.
They spoke out in the 1950s against the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and against the persecution of American Communists (and purported Communists) in the investigations by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. When, under the McCarran Act, the government revoked the passport of Robeson, the great black actor, singer and outspoken socialist, they helped organize the campaign to have it restored.
They were friends and supporters of both the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, whose eulogy, after his assassination in 1965, was delivered by Mr. Davis. On Aug. 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which culminated in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis were the M.C.’s of the entertainment event at the foot of the Washington Monument that preceded the march to the Lincoln Memorial. They raised money for the Black Panthers. They demonstrated against the Vietnam War.
“The largest piece of unfinished business before humankind is, in our opinion, poverty, spiritual as well as material,” Ms. Dee wrote in “With Ossie and Ruby.” “Racism, yes, and sexism, too; unemployment, drugs, child abuse, black boys too much in prison — oh, yes, Struggle is all there is, and we are still committed.”