Screen star Ruby Dee used her fame to shed light on social injustice in America

By Lindsey Bahr
Updated June 20, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

Ruby Dee may have been diminutive in stature, but the Oscar-nominated actress was still a force to be reckoned with. Known for both her captivating onscreen presence in films including 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun and 1989’s Do the Right Thing and her passionate advocacy of racial equality, Dee died on June 11 at her home in New Rochelle, N.Y., at the age of 91. Born in Cleveland as Ruby Ann Wallace and raised in Harlem, Dee started in the film business when opportunities for African-American actresses were woefully limited, but she proved to be a powerful presence opposite such revered costars as Sidney Poitier. Still, her heart was in her humanitarian work. She and husband Ossie Davis emceed the 1963 March on Washington, and continued to be vocal activists and protesters for the rest of their lives (Davis died in 2005). Although Dee didn’t win that Oscar for playing Denzel Washington’s feisty mother in 2007’s American Gangster, her legacy is so much larger than a gold statuette. As President Barack Obama said, ”Ruby paved the way for generations of black actors and actresses, and inspired African-American women across our country.”