Commentary: An Appreciation of Ruby Dee

Over a six-decade career, the actress not only gave the world stellar performances, but was also a voice for justice.

Posted: 06/12/2014 02:43 PM EDT

There are so many magnificent features to the life of Ruby Dee, an actress who had a remarkable and unforgettable presence in every stage and film role she undertook.

She had a film career that spanned some seven decades. She acted from the end of World War II through the cold war, the civil rights movement, through the era of Spike Lee films and into the age of Obama.

She had highly memorable roles, from those she played alongside Sidney Poitier in No Way Out and A Raisin in the Sun, in 1951 and 1961, respectively, to her Oscar-nominated performance in American Gangster in 2007 and A Thousand Words in 2012.

But Ruby Dee, who died on Thursday at age 91, was much more than a magnificent actress. She was also the voice of conscious for a justice and for the rights of all Americans, putting her celebrity on the line time and time again to take a stand for those who she felt were marginalized and ignored by American society.

She and her longtime husband, the late actor Ossie Davis, were impassioned civil rights activists who were not only personal friends with Martin Luther King Jr. but also with Malcolm X. They were involved in marches and protests during the civil rights movement as well as other activities that sought to raise consciousness about the inequalities of American life.

Such advocacy was nothing new for her, even by the 1960s. She and Davis spoke out as far back as the 1950s, when they protested the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as well as opposing the persecution of American Communists and others thought to be communists in the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Her work will live on through a wide and brilliant body of work. Her work will also live on through a legacy of activism that tells younger generations that celebrity is of little to no value whatsoever if it comes with an unwillingness to take a stand for fairness for those Americans who are rarely seen or heard. It was a lesson she completely and beautifully mastered.

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

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