Actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis died yesterday at the age of 87. He and his wife of over 50 years, Ruby Dee, fought for civil rights thoughout their life together. He marched in the anti-lynching campaigns in the 1940s, opposed McCarthy in the 1950s and was close friends with Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X (whose eulogy he famously delivered) and Paul Robeson.
One of the things I’ve always admired most about Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee is that they remained loyal friends with Paul Robeson when most everyone else in their industry and circle abandoned him for his avowedly communist beliefs. Likewise I’ve admired how they stood by each other. It would have been easy for a man of Davis’s generation to discourage his wife’s career. Instead he nurtured it along with his own, constantly seeking out projects for them to work on together.
I heard him speak when I was an undergraduate. It was a speech on the civil rights movement, but what I remember most was his comment on the right thing being the easier road because in the end you have to live with yourself. He pointed out that inside we know right from wrong, justice from injustice.
He was a man of great class and dignity. 87 years is a long life, yet when I consider all Ossie Davis did I wonder that he had time enough.
He will be missed.