Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis (December 18 1917February 4 2005) was an American film actor, director, poet, playwright, writer, and social activist.


Early life

Davis was born Raiford Chatman Davis in Cogdell, Clinch County, Georgia. The name Ossie came from a county clerk who misheard his mother's pronunciation of his initials "R.C." when he was born. Following the wishes of his parents, he attended Howard University but dropped out in 1939 to pursue his acting career in New York; he later attended Columbia University School of General Studies. His acting career, which spanned seven decades, began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. He made his film debut in 1950 in the Sidney Poitier film No Way Out. He voiced Anansi the spider on the PBS series Sesame Street in its animation segments.


Davis experienced many of the same struggles that most African American actors of his generation underwent; he wanted to act but he did not want to play stereotypical subservient roles, such as a butler, that was the standard for black actors of his generation. 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 tried to inject the role with a certain degree of dignity.

In addition to acting, Davis, along with Melvin Van Peebles, and Gordon Parks was one of the notable African American directors of his generation. 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. 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.

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 1948, Davis married actress Ruby Dee; in their joint autobiography With Ossie and Ruby, they later described their decision to have an open marriage. They were well-known as civil rights activists, and were close personal friends of Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other icons of the era. Davis and Dee's deep involvement in the movement is characterized by how instrumental they were in organizing the 1963 civil rights March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, even to the point of serving as emcee. Davis, alongside Ahmed Osman, delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Malcolm X; 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.

Davis and wife Ruby Dee were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. They were also named to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame in 1989. Their son Guy Davis is a blues musician and former actor, who appeared in the film Beat Street and the daytime soap opera One Life to Live.


Davis was found dead on February 4 2005, in a hotel room in Miami, Florida, of natural causes. He was in the first stages of working on a film called Retirement.

He was cremated. His ashes were either given to a friend or family.

Ossie's last role was a several episode guest role on the groundbreaking 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.

At the 2007 Grammy awards he and his wife were tied winners in the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album with former President Jimmy Carter.




  • A Trumpet at the Walls of Jericho (2005)
  • Proud (2004)
  • She Hate Me (2004)
  • BAADASSSSS! (2003)
  • Beah: A Black Woman Speaks (2003)
  • Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003)
  • Unchained Memories (2003)
  • Bubba Ho-tep (2002)
  • Why Can't We Be a Family Again? (2002)
  • Voice of the Voiceless (2001)
  • Here's to Life! (2000)
  • Dinosaur (2000) (voice)
  • The Gospel According to Mr. Allen (2000)
  • The Unfinished Journey (1999)
  • Dr. Dolittle (1998)
  • Alyson's Closet (1998)
  • 4 Little Girls (1997)


  • Touched By An Angel (1996-2002)
  • Promised Land (1996-1998)
  • Home of the Brave (1996)
  • The Client (1995-1996)
  • The Android Affair (1995)
  • Ray Alexander (1994-1995)
  • The Stand (1994)
  • The Ernest Green Story (1993)
  • ''Queen (1992)
  • Evening Shade (1990-1994)
  • We'll Take Manhattan (1990)
  • B.L. Stryker (1989-1990)
  • Don't Look Back: The Story of Leroy 'Satchel' Paige (1981)
  • Ossie and Ruby! (1980-1981)
  • All God's Children (1980)


  • A Celebration of Paul Robeson (October 30, 1988) (Benefit Concert)
  • I'm Not Rappaport (November 19, 1985 - January 17, 1988) (replacing Cleavon Little)
  • The Zulu and the Zayda (November 10, 1965 - April 16, 1966)
  • Purlie Victorious (September 28, 1961 - May 12, 1962)
  • A Raisin in the Sun (March 11, 1959 - June 25, 1960) (replacing Sidney Poitier)
  • Jamaica (October 31, 1957 - April 11, 1959)
  • Touchstone (February 3 - February 7, 1953)
  • Remains to Be Seen (October 3, 1951 - March 22, 1952)
  • The Green Pastures (Revival) (March 15 - April 21, 1951)
  • The Wisteria Trees (March 29 - September 16 1950)
  • The Smile of the World (January 12 - January 15, 1949)
  • The Leading Lady (October 18 - October 23, 1948)
  • Jeb (February 21 - February 28, 1946)


  • Davis, Ossie (1961). Purlie Victorious. Samuel French Inc Plays.
  • Davis, Ossie (1977). Escape to Freedom: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. Samuel French.
  • Davis, Ossie (1982). Langston. Delacorte Press.
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1984). Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears. Caedmon.
  • Davis, Ossie (1992). Just Like Martin. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
  • Davis, Ossie; Dee, Ruby (1998). With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. William Morrow.


External links

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