Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis
Davis at the New York City premiere of the Spike Lee film She Hate Me, 2004
Born Raiford Chatman Davis
(1917-12-18)December 18, 1917
Cogdell, Clinch County, Georgia, U.S.
Died February 4, 2005(2005-02-04) (aged 87)
Miami Beach, Florida, U.S.
Occupation Actor, director, poet, playwright, author, activist
Years active 1939–2005
Spouse(s) Ruby Dee (1948–2005; his death; 3 children)
Children Guy Davis (b. 1952)
Nora Davis Day
Hasna Muhammad

Ossie Davis (born Raiford Chatman Davis; December 18, 1917 – February 4, 2005) was an American film, television and Broadway actor, director, poet, playwright, author, and social activist.[1][2][3]


  • Early years 1
  • Career 2
  • Honors 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Death 5
  • Credits 6
    • Director 6.1
    • Film 6.2
    • Television 6.3
    • Stage 6.4
    • Discography 6.5
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early years

Davis was born Raiford Chatman Davis in

External links

  1. ^ Ossie Davis – Awards IMDB. 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012
  2. ^ Ossie Davis Television Credits Official Website of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee. 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012
  3. ^ Books Official Website of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee. 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012
  4. ^ "Ossie Davis Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  5. ^ "DAVIS, LAURA COOPER". The Journal News. June 9, 2004. 
  6. ^ "Ossie Davis Biography". Internet Movie Database. 2008. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  7. ^ Richard Severo; Douglas Martin (5 February 2005). "Ossie Davis, Actor, Writer and Eloquent Champion of Racial Justice, Is Dead at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  8. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts
  9. ^ Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Kennedy Center Honors. September 2004. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  10. ^ 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Kennedy Center Honors. 2011. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  11. ^ "Ossie Davis". www.thehistorymakers.com. 
  12. ^ Sheri Stritof; Bob Stritof. "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". About.com. Retrieved 2007-01-11. 
  13. ^ The New York Times: Q&A/Ossie Davis; Involved in a Community Beyond Theater
  14. ^ Davis, Ossie (February 27, 1965). "Malcolm X's Eulogy". The Official Website of Malcolm X. Retrieved September 6, 2009. 
  15. ^ "Benjamin Banneker: The Man Who Loved the Stars". Sights and Sounds Department Collection and State Library Resources. Baltimore, Maryland:  
  16. ^ Erikson, Hal. "Review Summary: Benjamin Banneker: The Man Who Loved the Stars (1989)". Movies.  


  • Davis, Ossie (1961). Purlie Victorious. New York: Samuel French Inc Plays.  
  • Davis, Ossie (1977). Escape to Freedom: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. New York: Samuel French.  
  • Davis, Ossie (1982). Langston. New York: Delacorte Press.  
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1984). Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears (Audio). Caedmon.  
  • Davis, Ossie (1992). Just Like Martin. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.  
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. New York: William Morrow.  
  • Davis, Ossie (2006). Dee, Ruby, ed. Life Lit by Some Large Vision: Selected Speeches and Writings. New York: Atria Books.  






Davis was found dead in a Miami, Florida, hotel room on February 9, 2005. An official cause of death was not released, but he had heart problems.


They were well known as March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, even to the point of serving as emcee. Davis, alongside Ahmed Osman, delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X.[14] He re-read part of this eulogy at the end of Spike Lee's film Malcolm X. He also delivered a stirring tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, at a memorial in New York's Central Park the day after King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ossie Davis at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.

In 1948, Davis married actress Ruby Dee. In their joint autobiography With Ossie and Ruby, they described their decision to have an open marriage (later changing their minds).[12] In the mid 1960s they moved to the New York suburb of New Rochelle where they remained ever after.[13] Their son Guy Davis is a blues musician and former actor, who appeared in the film Beat Street and the daytime soap opera One Life to Live. Their daughters are Nora Davis Day and Hasna Muhammad.

Personal life

Ossie Davis is also a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 1994.[11]

"The Honors recipients recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts— whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures, or television — are selected by the Center's Board of Trustees. The primary criterion in the selection process is excellence. The Honors are not designated by art form or category of artistic achievement; the selection process, over the years, has produced balance among the various arts and artistic disciplines."[10]

In 1989, Ossie Davis and his wife, actress/activist Ruby Dee, were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame. In 1995, they were awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation's highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the country and presented in a White House ceremony by the President of the United States.[8] And in 2004, they were recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.[9] According to the Kennedy Center Honors:


Davis's last role was a several episode guest role on the Showtime drama series The L Word, as a father struggling with the acceptance of his daughter Bette (Jennifer Beals) parenting a child with her lesbian partner. In his final episodes, his character was taken ill and died. His wife Ruby Dee was present during the filming of his own death scene. That episode, which aired shortly after Davis's own death, aired with a dedication to the actor.[7]

For many years, he hosted the annual National Memorial Day Concert from Washington, DC. His distinguished bearing made him a perfect choice for the concert. Following his passing, the hosting duties passed on to the twosome of Gary Sinise and Joe Montegna.

In 1999, he appeared as a theater caretaker in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra film The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, which was released on DVD two years later.

Davis found recognition late in his life by working in several of director Spike Lee's films, including Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever, She Hate Me and Get on the Bus. He also found work as a commercial voice-over artist and served as the narrator of the early-1990s CBS sitcom Evening Shade, starring Burt Reynolds, where he also played one of the residents of a small southern town.

In addition to acting, Davis, along with Melvin Van Peebles, and Gordon Parks was one of the notable African-American directors of his generation: he directed movies like Gordon's War, Black Girl and Cotton Comes to Harlem. Along with Bill Cosby and Poitier, Davis was one of a handful of African American actors able to find commercial success while avoiding stereotypical roles prior to 1970, which also included a significant role in the 1965 movie The Hill alongside Sean Connery plus roles in The Cardinal and The Scalphunters. However, Davis never had the tremendous commercial or critical success that Cosby and Poitier enjoyed. As a playwright, Davis wrote Paul Robeson: All-American, which is frequently performed in theatre programs for young audiences.

When Davis wanted to pursue a career in acting, he ran into the usual roadblocks that blacks suffered at that time as they generally could only portray stereotypical characters such as Stepin Fetchit. Instead, he tried to follow the example of Sidney Poitier and play more distinguished characters. When he found it necessary to play a Pullman porter or a butler, he tried to portray the character seriously and not in a stereotypical manner.

photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1951


in its animation segments. Sesame Street children's television series PBS the spider on the Anansi. He voiced No Way Out film Sidney Poitier in the Medical Corps. He made his film debut in 1950 in the United States Army, Davis served in the World War II. During Harlem. His acting career, which spanned eight decades, began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Columbia University School of General Studies but dropped out in 1939 to fulfill his acting career in New York; he later attended Howard University threatened to shoot his father, whose job they felt was too advanced for a black man to have. Following the wishes of his parents, he attended KKK from an early age when the racism Davis experienced R.C. Davis. So he inadvertently became "Ossie" when his mother told the courthouse clerk in Clinch County, Ga., who was filing his birth certificate that his name was [6] The name Ossie came from a county clerk who misheard his mother's pronunciation of his initials "R.C." when he was born.[5][4]