Tune into Turner Classic Movies on Saturday evening to watch two of Ruby Dee's most celebrated film roles; Edge of the City and A Raisin in the Sun. Listed airtimes are 4:15 and 5:45 pm ET but Check your local listings for more information.
Dee maintained a solid presence on New York stages throughout the remainder of the 1940s, spending one of her rare days off in 1948 visiting a justice of the peace to marry Davis. Dee expanded her dramatic training at The Actor's Studio and began to break into film work, appearing in a number of black features before landing the breakout portrayal of Rachel Robinson, wife of the African-American baseball star, in "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950). During the 1950s, Dee appeared regularly on the daytime soap "The Guiding Light" (CBS, 1952- ) and was underused in her share of "maid" roles in forgettable films, but she also landed meatier work in quality dramas including "Edge of the City" (1958) and the W.C. Handy biopic, "St. Louis Blues" (1958), starring Nat King Cole as the great American songwriter and featuring Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt and Ella Fitzgerald.
Earlier in the decade, Dee had become increasingly inspired by the role of the creative arts in furthering political and human rights causes. In 1953, she and Davis lent their voices to protest the controversial execution of suspected "Communist spies" Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and throughout the decade, they were active with civil rights groups including the NAACP, SNCC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference).
Dee returned to Broadway with resounding success in 1959, winning acclaim as Ruth Younger, the quiet, supportive wife in Lorraine Hansberry's ground-breaking family drama, "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959). She was tapped to recreate the role in the 1961 film, for which she earned a National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress. That same year, Dee co-starred off-Broadway in Davis' race relations satire, "Purlie Victorious," reprising her role in the big screen adaptation entitled "Gone are the Days!" (1963). That same year, she and Davis served as emcees at the infamous civil rights march on Washington D.C., where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. By this time, the couple was friends with King and had also become associated with Malcolm X through Dee's brother Edward, one of his earliest disciples.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster