Ossie Davis

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 civil rights activist.[1][2][3]

He was married to Ruby Dee, with whom he frequently performed with, until his death in 2005.[4]

He and his wife were named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame; were awarded the National Medal of Arts[5] and were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1994.

Ossie Davis
Ossie Davis
Davis in 2000
Raiford Chatman Davis

December 18, 1917
Cogdell, Clinch County, Georgia, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 2005 (aged 87)
Miami, Florida, U.S.
OccupationActor, director, poet, playwright, author, activist
Years active1939–2005
Ruby Dee (m. 1948)
Children3, including Guy Davis

Early years

Raiford Chatman Davis was born in Cogdell, Clinch County, Georgia, a son of Kince Charles Davis, a railway construction engineer, and his wife Laura (née Cooper; July 9, 1898 – June 6, 2004).[6][7] He inadvertently became known as "Ossie" when his birth certificate was being filed and his mother's pronunciation of his name as "R. C. Davis" was misheard by the courthouse clerk in Clinch County, Ga.[8] Davis experienced racism from an early age when the KKK threatened to shoot his father, whose job they felt was too advanced for a black man to have. His siblings included scientist William Conan Davis, social worker Essie Morgan Davis, pharmacist Kenneth Curtis Davis, and biology teacher James Davis.[9]

Following the wishes of his parents, he attended Howard University but dropped out in 1939 to fulfill his desire for an acting career in New York after a recommendation by Alain Locke; he later attended Columbia University School of General Studies. His acting career, which spanned eight decades, began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. During World War II, Davis served in the United States Army in the Medical Corps. He made his film debut in 1950 in the Sidney Poitier film No Way Out. He voiced Anansi the spider on the PBS children's television series Sesame Street in its animation segments.


photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1951

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 played those characters realistically, not as a caricature.

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 such as 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.

In 1976, Davis appeared on Muhammad Ali's novelty album for children, The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay.[10]

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

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 Mantegna.

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.[11]


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.[12] And in 2004, they were recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors.[13] According to the Kennedy Center Honors:

"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."[14]

In 1994, Davis was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[15]


Opera star Stacey Robinson (left) with Ossie Davis in 1998
Davis with activist and opera star Stacey Robinson (left) in 1998.

Davis and Dee were well known as civil rights activists during the Civil Rights Movement and were close friends of Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and other icons of the era. They were involved in organizing the 1963 civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and served as its emcees. Davis, alongside Ahmed Osman, delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X.[16] 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.

Personal life

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
Davis and Dee

In 1948, Davis married actress Ruby Dee, whom he had met on the set of Robert Ardrey's 1946 play Jeb. In their joint autobiography With Ossie and Ruby, they described their decision to have an open marriage, later changing their minds.[17] In the mid-1960s they moved to the New York suburb of New Rochelle, where they remained ever after.[18] Their son Guy Davis is a blues musician and former actor, who appeared in the film Beat Street (1984) and the daytime soap opera One Life to Live. Their daughters are Nora Davis Day and Hasna Muhammad.


Davis was found dead in a Miami hotel room on February 4, 2005. An official cause of death was not released, but he was known to have had heart problems.[19]




  • The Emperor Jones (1955, TV Movie) as Brutus Jones
  • Seven Times Monday (1962, TV Movie) as Will
  • Car 54 Where Are You? (1962-1963) as Officer Omar Anderson
  • The Fugitive (1966) as Lt. Johnny Gaines
  • 12 O'Clock High (1967) as Major Glenn Luke
  • Bonanza: The Wish (1969) as Sam Davis
  • Night Gallery (1969) as Osmund Portifoy
  • Hawaii Five-O (1974) as Ramon Borelle
  • The Tenth Level (1976, TV Movie) as Reed
  • Billy: Portrait of a Street Kid (1977, TV Movie) as Dr. Fredericks
  • King (1978, TV Mini-Series) as Rev. Martin Luther King Sr.
  • Roots: The Next Generations (1979, TV Mini-Series) as Dad Jones
  • Freedom Road (1979, TV Movie) as Narrator
  • All God's Children (1980, TV Movie) as Blaine Whitfield
  • Ossie and Ruby! (1980) as Co-host (1980-1981)
  • Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy "Satchel" Paige (1981, TV Movie) as Chuffy Russell
  • Death of a Prophet (1981, TV Movie) as Himself
  • Benjamin Banneker: The Man Who Loved the Stars (1989)[21]
  • B.L. Stryker (1989–1990) as Oz Jackson
  • We'll Take Manhattan (1990, TV Movie) as Man in Subway
  • Evening Shade (1990–1994) as Ponder Blue
  • Alex Haley's Queen (1993, TV Mini-Series) as Parson Dick
  • The Ernest Green Story (1993, TV Movie) as Grandfather
  • The Stand (1994, TV Mini-Series) as Judge Richard Farris
  • Ray Alexander (1995, TV Movie) as Uncle Phil
  • The Android Affair (1995, TV Movie) as Dr. Winston
  • The Client (1995–1996) as Judge Harry Roosevelt
  • Home of the Brave (1996, TV Movie) as Erasmus Jones
  • Promised Land (1996–1998) as Erasmus Jones




  • Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1: (Folkways Records, 1966)
  • Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 2: (Folkways, 1966)
  • Frederick Douglass' The Meaning of July 4 for the Negro: (Folkways, 1975)
  • Frederick Douglass' Speeches inc. The Dred Scott Decision: (Folkways, 1976)


  • Davis, Ossie (1961). Purlie Victorious. New York: Samuel French Inc Plays. ISBN 978-0-573-61435-4.
  • Davis, Ossie (1977). Escape to Freedom: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. New York: Samuel French. ISBN 978-0-573-65031-4.
  • Davis, Ossie (1982). Langston. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0-440-04634-9.
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1984). Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears (Audio). Caedmon. ISBN 978-0-694-51187-7.
  • Davis, Ossie (1992). Just Like Martin. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. ISBN 978-0-671-73202-8.
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. New York: William Morrow. ISBN 978-0-688-15396-0.
  • Davis, Ossie (2006). Dee, Ruby (ed.). Life Lit by Some Large Vision: Selected Speeches and Writings. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-416-52549-3.


  1. ^ Ossie Davis – Awards IMDB. 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012
  2. ^ Ossie Davis Television Credits Archived 2012-04-23 at the Wayback Machine Official Website of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee. 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012
  3. ^ Books Archived 2012-04-23 at the Wayback Machine Official Website of Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee. 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2012
  4. ^ Dagan, Carmel Oscar-Nominated Actress Ruby Dee Dies at 91. Variety. June 12, 2014. Retrieved March 30, 2016
  5. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts Archived 2013-08-26 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Ossie Davis Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  7. ^ "Davis, Laura Cooper". The Journal News. White Plains, New York. June 9, 2004. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013.
  8. ^ "Ossie Davis Biography". IMDb. 2008. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
  9. ^ "Finding Aid to The HistoryMakers ® Video Oral History with William Davis" (PDF). HistoryMakers. February 1, 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
  10. ^ Heller, Jason (June 6, 2016). "Remembering Muhammad Ali's Trippy, Anti-Cavity Kids' Record". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 24, 2016.
  11. ^ Severo, Richard; Martin, Douglas (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.
  12. ^ Lifetime Honors – National Medal of Arts Archived 2013-08-26 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Archived 2012-03-25 at the Wayback Machine Kennedy Center Honors. September 2004. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  14. ^ 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Kennedy Center Honors. 2011. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
  15. ^ "Ossie Davis". The History Makers.
  16. ^ Davis, Ossie (February 27, 1965). "Malcolm X's Eulogy". The Official Website of Malcolm X. Archived from the original on October 6, 2014. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
  17. ^ Sheri Stritof; Bob Stritof. "Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee on Open Marriage". About.com. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2007-01-11.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  18. ^ Greene, Donna. "Q&A/Ossie Davis; Involved in a Community Beyond Theater", The New York Times, October 25, 1998.
  19. ^ "Ossie Davis found dead in Miami hotel room". Today. Associated Press. February 9, 2005.
  20. ^ "Benjamin Banneker: The Man Who Loved the Stars". Baltimore, Maryland: Enoch Pratt Free Library. Archived from the original on 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
  21. ^ Erikson, Hal. "Review Summary: Benjamin Banneker: The Man Who Loved the Stars (1989)". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2016-03-25. Retrieved 2012-09-21.

External links

B.L. Stryker

B.L. Stryker is an American detective drama that aired on ABC from February 13, 1989 to May 5, 1990 as part of the ABC Mystery Movie umbrella group, along with Gideon Oliver, Columbo, and Kojak. Tom Selleck was one of the series' executive producers. The series starred Burt Reynolds, Ossie Davis, and Rita Moreno; Reynolds also directed several of the episodes.

Black Girl (1972 film)

Black Girl is an American family drama film directed by Ossie Davis based on a play written by J.E. Franklin. The film explores issues and experiences of black womanhood in the 1970s, including how black women were depicted and common stereotypes of the period. According to Melvin Donalson in Black Directors in Hollywood, "Black Girl is a film that explores the intricate and sometimes painful connections between mothers and daughters."

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Cotton Comes to Harlem is an action film co-written and directed in 1970 by Ossie Davis and starring Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, and Redd Foxx. The film is based on Chester Himes' novel of the same name. The opening theme, "Ain't Now But It's Gonna Be" was written by Ossie Davis and performed by Melba Moore. It was followed two years later by the sequel Come Back, Charleston Blue.

Countdown at Kusini

Countdown at Kusini (also known as Cool Red) is a 1976 action/drama film written by Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman, and directed by Ossie Davis.

Evening Shade

Evening Shade is an American television sitcom that aired on CBS from September 21, 1990, to May 23, 1994. The series stars Burt Reynolds as Wood Newton, an ex-professional football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who returns to rural Evening Shade, Arkansas, to coach a high-school football team with a long losing streak. Reynolds personally requested to use the Steelers as his character's former team, because he was a fan.The general theme of the show is the appeal of small-town life. Episodes often ended with a closing narration by Ossie Davis, as his character Ponder Blue, summing up the events of the episode, always closing with "... in a place called Evening Shade." The opening segment included clips from around Arkansas, including the famous McClard's Bar-B-Q, which is situated on Albert Pike Blvd. and South Patterson St. in Hot Springs National Park.

Gordon's War

Gordon's War is a 1973 action film written by Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman, and directed by Ossie Davis. It stars Paul Winfield as Gordon Hudson.

Jungle Fever

Jungle Fever is a 1991 American romantic comedy-drama film written, produced and directed by Spike Lee. The film stars Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, Halle Berry, and Anthony Quinn, and is Lee's fifth feature-length film. Jungle Fever explores the beginning and end of an extramarital interracial relationship against the urban backdrop of the streets of New York City in the 1990s.

Kongi's Harvest (film)

Kongi's Harvest is a 1970 Nigerian film directed by Ossie Davis, from a screenplay by Wole Soyinka adapted from his 1965 play by the same name. Soyinka also starred in the leading role as the dictator of an African nation.

NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

This page lists the winners and nominees for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. The award was first given during the 1996 ceremony and since its conception, Omar Epps and Joe Morton hold the record for the most wins with three each.

Our Endangered Values

Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis is a book written by Jimmy Carter. On January 15, 2006 it was listed at #1 on The New York Times Non-Fiction Best Seller list.Carter won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for the spoken word production of this book, tying with Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee (born Ruby Ann Wallace, October 27, 1922 – June 11, 2014) was an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and civil rights activist. She is perhaps best known for originating the role of "Ruth Younger" in the stage and film versions of A Raisin in the Sun (1961). Her other notable film roles include The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and Do the Right Thing (1989).

Dee was married to Ossie Davis, with whom she frequently performed until his death in 2005.For her performance as Mahalee Lucas in American Gangster (2007), Dee was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Female Actor in a Supporting Role. Dee was a Grammy, Emmy, Obie and Drama Desk winner. She was also a National Medal of Arts, Kennedy Center Honors and Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award recipient.

Slaves (film)

Slaves is a 1969 American drama film directed by Herbert Biberman. It was entered into the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. The film stars Dionne Warwick (in her screen acting debut), Ossie Davis, and Stephen Boyd.

The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay

The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay is a 1976 educational album by the American heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali. The album was recorded to raise awareness of tooth decay among children. The album features several notable personalities including Howard Cosell, Frank Sinatra, and Ossie Davis. The album was recorded in the year of the United States Bicentennial, and makes several patriotic references to America's past including the Liberty Bell and Paul Revere.It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children at the 19th Annual Grammy Awards in 1977.Ali also made a short film on children's dental hygiene, in which Mr Tooth Decay was played by Chuck Wepner. Ali later boxed against Mr. Tooth Decay during Dental Hygiene for Children Day in Washington, D. C. in January 1980.The album was officially approved by the American Dental Association.

The Client (1994 film)

The Client is a 1994 American legal thriller film directed by Joel Schumacher, and starring Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Renfro, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony LaPaglia, Anthony Edwards, and Ossie Davis. It is based on the eponymous novel by John Grisham. The film was released in the United States on July 20, 1994.

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve

The Ghosts of Christmas Eve is a 1999 made-for-television film showcasing a Christmas music performance by Trans-Siberian Orchestra, starring Ossie Davis and Allie Sheridan. Guest performers included Michael Crawford and Jewel. Other performers include Bob Kinkel, Al Pitrelli, Chris Caffery, Johnny Lee Middleton, Jeff Plate, Tony Gaynor, Daryl Pediford and Tommy Farese.

The Scalphunters

The Scalphunters is a 1968 American western film starring Burt Lancaster, Ossie Davis and Telly Savalas. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack, with the score written by Elmer Bernstein. Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film. Filming took place in Sierra de Órganos National Park in the town of Sombrerete, Mexico

The Stand (1994 miniseries)

The Stand is a 1994 American television horror miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. King also wrote the teleplay and has a minor role in the series. It was directed by Mick Garris and stars Gary Sinise, Miguel Ferrer, Rob Lowe, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Jamey Sheridan, Laura San Giacomo, Molly Ringwald, Corin Nemec, Adam Storke, Ray Walston, Ed Harris, and Matt Frewer. It originally aired on ABC starting on May 8, 1994.

Films directed by Ossie Davis
Awards for Ossie Davis

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