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1010 WINS Black History Month Spotlight: Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee and Larry Mullins in 2012

Ruby Dee and Larry Mullins in 2012

Since 1942, the United States has observed February as Black History Month. Here at CBSNewYork, we’re celebrating it by recognizing accomplished black New Yorkers. Below, Larry Mullins reflects on his experience with Ruby Dee.

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Meeting Ruby Dee was like meeting everybody’s sweet little grandmother. She is as witty, funny, spry, petite, and lovely as a sweet little grandmother could be.

If her kids hadn’t been standing there, I probably would have put Ruby Dee in my briefcase, and snuck her home. She’s so tiny. But oh, her personality and her love and joy of sharing her legendary life was huge!

We met up in New Rochelle, at the library, where she and her husband, the late Ossie Davis, spent a lot of time. In fact, we did our interview with her inside the Ossie Davis Theater. Miss Ruby is a treasure.

Listen: 1010 WINS’ Larry Mullins Chats With Ruby Dee

I wouldn’t even know where to begin in telling you how many years I’ve loved her work. “A Raisin in the Sun,” from back in the day, to her latest work with Denzel Washington (American Gangster). You fill in the rest.

Her career spans almost a half a century. Gosh, I can remember hosting shows back in the late 80’s with Ruby Dee, during MLK tributes in Dallas. And she hasn’t changed a bit. You can tell that she takes a little longer to get her thoughts out, but oh, when she does, Hah!

She was telling us about Mr. Ossie, and how she had to “school him” on how to treat a woman when they first got married back in the 40s. She says he came from the south, where women did all the work. But she says “momma wasn’t one of them women!” And then she says he was a student, by nature, so after she gave him a few clues, he was “looking it up and doing research, on women” Hah – We were laughing our heads off.

Miss Ruby was raised in Harlem, where she says her mother, and her girlfriends mothers were responsible for letting NYC know that segregated schools stunk. In fact, she says her girlfriend’s mom was so light-skinned, that she often passed for white. And that’s how they infiltrated the school system to get insight, so they’d know how to break down barriers.

Listen: Ruby Dee speaks about what life experience has taught her

Ruby Dee is an amazing woman. A strong woman. She says she got it from her step mother, Mrs. Wallace, who raised her in a pretty strict environment. She says Mrs. Wallace studied under the great historian W.E.B. DuBois, and so a lot of his teachings eventually found their way to “their house.”

Ms. Dee is still carrying on the work of an activist today, working with CORE and the NAACP and other groups, which she and her husband supported. In fact, they won many awards together, including the Kennedy Center Honors and so many others for their charitable, activism and philanthropic works. She still lives in New Rochelle, and says “I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

They honored her with the Westchester County Women’s Hall of Fame distinction recently. But whatever you do, don’t call her a celebrity and don’t call her a star. Nope. Ms. Ruby doesn’t play that. She’s happy and still amazed that as a black actress, she can still find work every now and then in the movie industry. Well, I don’t care what she says. She’s a star in my book. A legend. A sweet grandmother….with some stories to tell, that would make you laugh, cry, sing, dance, and smile. Gosh, I love Ruby Dee. I miss Mr. Ossie too.

Listen: Larry Mullins’ Complete Interview With Ruby Dee

Oh, gotta tell you this, before this blog ends: I didn’t know that Ossie Davis wasn’t his real name. She told me that when her husband was born, the white clerk at the health department asked his mother to say his name, for the birth certificate. Mom says, “R C Davis”. The lady thought she said, “Ossie”. And back then, they wouldn’t dare argue with anybody “downtown” at the clerk’s office. So Ossie Davis stuck. Lucky us.

And lucky for us, there is also a Ruby Dee.

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