Remembering Ruby

Ruby Dee was never too busy. That is how I remember her. Would she record a TV spot for ArtsWestchester? Happy to do so. Would she say a few words at a local school? In a heartbeat! A poetry reading with her family at ArtsWestchester? Of course! Accept an arts award? Yes…but…heaven knows she didn’t need another one. She had the Oscar, the SAG, the Tony, the Grammy, the national Medal of Art, and the Kennedy Center Honors. Why indeed? Because that is who she was.


2007 ArtsWestchester Gala honoree Ruby Dee (center) is joined by her daughters Nora Davis Day (left) and Dr. Hasna Muhammad (right)


She was a great lady of the stage who was never too busy to support the arts in her local community…Westchester. She was a woman of incredible grace and talent, big hearted, beloved the world over, but never so much as in her hometown of New Rochelle. She was a star in every sense of the word, but never forgot where she came from.

Some people try to escape the past; others embrace it. Ruby’s past emboldened her to become the activist she was throughout her life, including marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. “As a nation, we are growing some thick skin over some basic tenets that are in danger of being lost to us,” she said in an interview. “Our democracy is getting threadbare.” Much of her concern was for the little guy. “You’re not supposed to go into business with the sole purpose of putting your neighbor out of business,” she said. “This is not the United States of Corporate America.”

Ruby Dee at Liberty Reading event at ArtsWestchester

Ruby Dee at Liberty Reading event at ArtsWestchester


Her performances at ArtsWestchester were marked by her convictions. One was inspired by the 1929 “Freedom Mural,” that overlooks our gallery and performance space. The performance was titled “Overcoming Injustice and Oppression,” reflecting her lifelong involvement in civil rights and social justice issues. She recited texts by Walt Whitman, Thomas Paine, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, the historian Lerone Bennett, and Zora Neale Thurston. Another was called “Family First” and featured her talented offspring. With Ruby, it was no question; family came first. It still moves me that these local performances took place during the time when she was on the world stage as a nominee for an Oscar for her role in American Gangster.

Guy Davis, Nora Davis Day, Ruby Dee, and Wali Ali Muhammad

Guy Davis, Nora Davis Day, Ruby Dee, and Wali Ali Muhammad


So, what more can be said of Ruby Dee? I suppose, it is this: In the end, past the applause, past the accolades, past the awards, it can be said, yes, it must be said, that Ruby Dee was the real deal. And that’s the truth.

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