Along with her husband, Ossie Davis, Dee was a fervent activist. In the 1950s she was an outspoken critic of McCarthyism. Close friends with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., she served as the master of ceremonies during the entertainment portion of the March on Washington. Dee was a member of the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Congress of Racial Equality. She also protested against the Vietnam War.

2. She was a lover of languages.


In 1944 she graduated from Hunter College with degrees in Spanish and French. Dee also became a member of Delta Sigma Theta.

3. She was a cancer survivor.


Dee was a breast-cancer survivor after being diagnosed nearly 40 years ago.

4. She was a Grammy winner.

Dee and her husband, Ossie Davis, won the 2006 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.

5. She had some reservations about her breakout role.

Regarding her part in the original production of A Raisin in the Sun, Dee said, “It seemed that I’d been playing that same character, more or less, in almost everything I’d done.” The play would lead her to stardom.


6. She spent most of her life without a single Oscar nomination.

Dee received her first Oscar nomination at the age of 83. The nod was for the film American Gangster.


Diamond Sharp is an editorial fellow at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.