Tag: Civil Rights

In Loving Memory of Ruby Dee (1924-2014) – Actress, Screenwriter, Poet, Playwright & Civil Rights Activist

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee was an American actress, playwright, screenwriter, activist, poet and journalist, perhaps best known for starring in the 1961 film A Raisin in the Sun. She’s also known for her civic work with husband Ossie Davis.

Born in Ohio in 1924, actress Ruby Dee grew up in Harlem and joined the American Negro Theatre in 1941. She is well known for collaborations with her husband, actor Ossie Davis. Dee’s film career spans a generation and includes 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story, 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun and 1988’s Do the Right Thing. In 2008, Dee received her first Oscar nomination for playing Mama Lucas in the hit film American Gangster.

Early Life and Career

Born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 27, 1924, African-American actress Ruby Dee has enjoyed a tremendous career on the stage, on television and in film. She grew up in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, and got involved in acting as a teenager. Dee began studying her craft at the American Negro Theatre, a company that also educated talents like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. Dee also attended Hunter College.

Dee had her first major career breakthrough in 1946, when she took the title role in the ANT’s Broadway production of Anna Lucasta. That same year, she met actor Ossie Davis while performing in the play Jeb. The couple married two years later and eventually had three children together. Dee soon landed some film roles, including playing the wife to a baseball great in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950).

Actress and Activist

Dee landed a starring role on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. She earned great acclaim for her portrayal of Ruth Younger in this drama about a struggling African-American family. Sidney Poitier played her husband. Two years later, Dee reprised her role in the film version of the play.

Around this time, Dee joined forces with her husband to appear in the play Purlie Victorious. Davis wrote this southern comedy and he and Dee co-starred in it together. The pair reprised their roles for the 1963 film adaptation. Over the years, the couple worked on a number of projects together. They were also very active in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in marches and speaking out for racial equality. Both Dee and Davis were friends of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1968, Dee worked behind the scenes, co-writing the screenplay for Up Tight!. She also starred in this drama. On the small screen, Dee appeared on the popular primetime soap opera Peyton Place, and later had her own series on public television with her husband: With Ossie & Ruby.

Through the 1970s and ’80s, Dee gave a number of stellar performances. She picked up Drama Desk and Obie awards for the 1970 play Boesman and Lena, and an Emmy Award nomination for her role in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generation. That same year, Dee starred in a family theatrical effort. She wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Take It from the Top!, for which her son, Guy, composed the music. Her husband directed the production.

In the early 1980s, Dee starred as author Zora Neale Hurston in the play Zora Is My Name, which later aired on PBS. She and her husband both won positive notices for their work with director Spike Lee on his film Do the Right Thing (1989). In 1991, Dee won an Emmy Award for her work on the television movie Decoration Day.

Later Years & Death

In 1998, Dee and her husband published With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together, a look at their life experiences during their 50 years of marriage. The book received warm reviews for its humor and candor. Dee also wrote and performed the one-woman show My One Good Nerve around this time.

Dee suffered a tremendous loss in 2005, when her husband, Ossie Davis, died unexpectedly. She had been away, filming a movie in New Zealand, at the time of his death; Davis had been working on a film entitled Retirement. That same year, Dee and Davis won a Grammy Award (best spoken word album) for the audio version of With Ossie and Ruby.

Continuing to work, despite her grief, Dee delivered one of her great performances in 2007’s American Gangster. She played the mother of notorious crime figure Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, in the film. For her work, she received an Academy Award nomination and won a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Dee continued to perform into her 90s. Among her recent work, Dee was hired to narrate the Lifetime original movie Betty and Coretta (2013), which followed the lives of Coretta Scott King, played by Angela Bassett, and Betty Shabazz, played by Mary J. Blige, after the assassinations of their husbands.

On June 11, 2014, Dee died of natural causes at her home in New Rochelle, New York, at the age of 91.

*Information found on Biography.com

Paul Robeson Jr., Activist and Author, Dies at 86

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Paul Robeson Jr., who worked to preserve the legacy of his father, the actor, singer and civil rights advocate, since his death almost four decades ago, died on Saturday in Jersey City. He was 86.

The cause was lymphoma, his daughter, Susan Robeson, said.

Mr. Robeson wrote two books about his father and created an archive of his writing and films. He aimed to teach new generations about his father’s radical politics and criticized those he thought misrepresented his life, including a 1978 Broadway play starring James Earl Jones, which he protested.

Mr. Robeson worked for many years as a Russian translator and served as a personal aide to his father. In his later years, he wrote books about politics and race, as well as a two-part biography of his father.

He admired his father and noted their similar political views in an interview with The New York Times in 1993 when he published his first book, “Paul Robeson Jr. Speaks to America.”

“I follow in my father’s cultural tradition,” he said, “and like him, I am a black radical.”

Mr. Robeson was born on Nov. 2, 1927, in Brooklyn, the only child of Paul and Eslanda Robeson. As a boy, he traveled with his parents to Europe and lived with his grandmother in Moscow, where he became fluent in Russian and attended the same public school, he said, as Joseph Stalin’s daughter.

After his father’s death in 1976, Mr. Robeson began to collect his father’s correspondence, recordings and photographs for an archive, part of which is housed at Howard University.

When the play “Paul Robeson,” opened on Broadway in 1978, Mr. Robeson and several African-American leaders, including Maya Angelou and Julian Bond, published a letter in Variety calling it a “pernicious perversion of the essence of Paul Robeson.” The play, written by Phillip Hayes Dean, who died earlier this month, did not emphasize Mr. Robeson’s socialist views, they argued, in order to appeal to a mass audience.

The show closed after 77 performances, but it returned to Broadway in 1988 and 1995, with Avery Brooks in the title role. During the first revival, Mr. Robeson said that the production had improved but added, “I still feel the character as written is a counterfeit.”

Mr. Robeson served as a consultant for several films about his father, including a 1999 documentary for the PBS series “American Masters.”

His first book on his father, published in 2001, followed an earlier biography by Martin Duberman. It read “like Paul Jr.’s attempt to correct the story of his father’s life as told by Duberman,” a review in The New York Times said. “In the end, however, it adds little and omits a great deal from the earlier biography.”

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Besides his daughter, Mr. Robeson is survived by his wife, Marilyn, and a grandson.

Mr. Robeson was tall and athletic like his father; both men played football in college. While they had much in common, he said one difference was that he was a member of the Communist Party from 1948 to 1962 while his father never joined the party. (During the McCarthy era, his father faced F.B.I. surveillance after he criticized the government.)

Asked whether it was difficult being in his father’s shadow, Mr. Robeson said that his father once told him: “If you want to be somebody, you’re going to have to be yourself. You can’t copy anybody else, especially me.”

“So I never remember having any need to compete with him,” Mr. Robeson said. “He gave me a sense of being my own man.”

*This article was originally published on the New York Times website.

robeson1
Viewing: The family will be present on Thursday, May 1
Thursday, May 1 from 6-9 p.m.
Salem United Methodist Church
2190 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (at 129th Street) New York, NY 10027
212-678-2700
Friday, May 2 from 5-7 p.m.
Salem United Methodist Church
2190 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (at 129th Street) New York, NY 10027
212-678-2700
Funeral:
Presiding at the funeral is Dr. Gregory Robeson Smith, cousin of Paul Robeson, Jr. and grandnephew of Paul Robeson, Sr.
Harry Belafonte is delivering the eulogy Remembrance from Mayor David N. Dinkins
Friday May 2 @ 7 p.m.
Salem United Methodist Church
2190 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (at 129th Street) New York, NY 10027
212-678-2700
Funeral arrangements handled by:
Baker Funeral Home
18 Yosemite Avenue
White Plains, NY 10607
914-997-6900
At the family’s request, donations to The Paul Robeson Foundation in lieu of flowers:
The Paul Robeson Foundation
131 West 35th Street
8th Floor
New York, NY 10001
robesonfoundation@gmail.com

READERS: Black History Fact of the Day – 50 Years Ago TODAY The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement. First proposed by President John F. Kennedy, it survived strong opposition from southern members of Congress and was then signed into law by Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. In subsequent years, Congress expanded the act and also passed additional legislation aimed at bringing equality to African Americans, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After 12 days of debate and voting on 125 amendments, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by a vote of 290-130. The bill prohibited any state or local government or public facility from denying access to anyone because of race or ethnic origin. It further gave the U.S. Attorney General the power to bring school desegregation law suits. The bill allowed the federal government the power to bring school desegregation law suits and to cut off federal funds to companies or states who discriminated. It forbade labor organizations or interstate commercial companies from discriminating against workers due to race or ethnic origins. Lastly, the federal government could compile records of denial of voting rights. After passage in the House, the bill went to the Senate, which after 83 days of debate passed a similar package on June 19 by a vote of 73 to 27. President Lyndon Johnson signed the legislation on July 2. Later, future Georgia governor Lester Maddox would become the first person prosecuted under the Civil Rights Act.

Leading Up to the Civil Rights Act

Following the Civil War (1861-1865), a trio of constitutional amendments abolished slavery, made the former slaves citizens and gave all men the right to vote regardless of race. Nonetheless, many states–particularly in the South–used poll taxes, literacy tests and other similar measures to keep their African-American residents essentially disenfranchised. They also enforced strict segregation through “Jim Crow” laws and condoned violence from white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

For decades after Reconstruction (1865-1877), the U.S. Congress did not pass a single civil rights act. Finally, in 1957, it established a civil rights section of the Justice Department, along with a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate discriminatory conditions. Three years later, Congress provided for court-appointed referees to help blacks register to vote. Both of these bills were strongly watered down to overcome southern resistance. When John F. Kennedy entered the White House in 1961, he initially delayed in supporting new anti-discrimination measures. But with protests springing up throughout the South – including one in Birmingham, Alabama, where police brutally suppressed nonviolent demonstrators with dogs, clubs and high-pressure fire hoses – Kennedy decided to act. In June 1963 he proposed by far the most comprehensive civil rights legislation to date, saying the United States “will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free.”

The Civil Rights Act Moves Through Congress

Kennedy was assassinated that November in Dallas, after which new President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately took up the cause. “Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined,” Johnson said in his first State of the Union address. During debate on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, southerners argued, among other things, that the bill unconstitutionally usurped individual liberties and states’ rights. In a mischievous attempt to sabotage the bill, a Virginia segregationist introduced an amendment to ban employment discrimination against women. That one passed, whereas over 100 other hostile amendments were defeated. In the end, the House approved the bill with bipartisan support by a vote of 290-130.

The bill then moved to the Senate, where southern and border state Democrats staged a 75-day filibuster –among the longest in U.S. history. On one occasion, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a former Ku Klux Klan member, spoke for over 14 consecutive hours. But with the help of behind-the-scenes horse-trading, the bill’s supporters eventually obtained the two-thirds votes necessary to end debate. One of those votes came from California Senator Clair Engle, who, though too sick to speak, signaled “aye” by pointing to his own eye. Having broken the filibuster, the Senate voted 73-27 in favor of the bill, and Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964. “It is an important gain, but I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come,” Johnson, a Democrat, purportedly told an aide later that day in a prediction that would largely come true.

Provisions Within the Civil Rights Act

Under the Civil Rights Act, segregation on the grounds of race, religion or national origin was banned at all places of public accommodation, including courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and hotels. No longer could blacks and other minorities be denied service simply based on the color of their skin. The act also barred race, religious, national origin and gender discrimination by employers and labor unions, and created an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the power to file lawsuits on behalf of aggrieved workers.

Additionally, the act forbade the use of federal funds for any discriminatory program, authorized the Office of Education (now the Department of Education) to assist with school desegregation, gave extra clout to the Commission on Civil Rights and prohibited the unequal application of voting requirements. For famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., it was nothing less than a “second emancipation.”

After the Civil Rights Act

The Civil Rights Act was later expanded to bring disabled Americans, the elderly and women in collegiate athletics under its umbrella. It also paved the way for two major follow-up laws: the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited literacy tests and other discriminatory voting practices, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of property. Though the struggle against racism would continue, legal segregation had been brought to its knees.

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READERS: Black History Month Fact of the Day – Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers’ Killer Convicted 20 Years Ago Today

Byron De La Beckwith Convicted of Killing Medgar Evers

On this day in 1994, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith is convicted in the murder of African-American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, over 30 years after the crime occurred. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home on June 12, 1963, while his wife, Myrlie, and the couple’s three small children were inside.

Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After fighting for his country, he returned home to experience discrimination in the racially divided South, with its separate public facilities and services for blacks and whites. Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952 and began organizing local chapters of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In 1954, after being rejected for admission to then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School, he became part of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school. Later that year, Evers was named the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi. He moved with his family to Jackson and worked to dismantle segregation, leading peaceful rallies, economic boycotts and voter registration drives around the state. In 1962, he helped James Meredith become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, a watershed event in the civil rights movement. As a result of his work, Evers received numerous threats and several attempts were made on his life before he was murdered in 1963 at the age of 37.

Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and Ku Klux Klan member widely believed to be the killer, was prosecuted for murder in 1964. However, two all-white (and all-male) juries deadlocked and refused to convict him. A second trial held in the same year resulted in a hung jury. The matter was dropped when it appeared that a conviction would be impossible. Myrlie Evers, who later became the first woman to chair the NAACP, refused to give up, pressing authorities to re-open the case. In 1989, documents came to light showing that jurors in the case were illegally screened.

Prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter worked with Myrlie Evers to force another prosecution of Beckwith. After four years of legal maneuvering, they were finally successful. At the third trial they produced a riflescope from the murder weapon with Beckwith’s fingerprints, as well as new witnesses who testified that Beckwith had bragged about committing the crime. Justice was finally achieved when Beckwith was convicted and given a life sentence by a racially diverse jury in 1994. He died in prison in 2001 at the age of 80.

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