Syracuse University honors Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis with the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement
Syracuse University honors Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis with the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding AchievementApril 17, 2006Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
On Tuesday, April 18, Ruby Dee, playwright, poet and award-winning actress, and her late husband, Ossie Davis, actor, screenwriter and director, will be honored by Syracuse University with the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement. They were nominated for the award by William Rowland III, executive artistic director of the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company, in recognition of their theatrical artistry and passionate activism for social justice and human dignity.
The Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement was first presented in 1967 on the occasion of Chancellor William P. Tolley’s 25th anniversary as chancellor. In the decades since, the medal has been given to individuals in honor of their extraordinary contributions to the University, to their areas of expertise and/or to the community. Among the past Chancellor’s Medal recipients are Ken Auletta G’65, U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden LAW ’68, Claire Bloom, Aaron Copland, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan ’84 LLD, Renee Schine Crown ’50 and Fred Silverman ’58.
Both Dee and Davis made outstanding contributions to the American theater and the 20th century African American experience.
While attending New York City’s Hunter College, from which she graduated in 1945, Dee served an apprenticeship at the American Negro Theater and soon made her Broadway debut. As a stage, film and television actress, Dee played a wide range of roles — from Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to Lutiebelle in “Purlie Victorious” (1963) — in an acting career that spanned more than 50 years. She was the first African American woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.
Davis began acting with a Harlem theatre company while at Howard University and also became an active lifelong campaigner for civil rights. He made his Broadway debut in 1946 in “Jeb,” where he met Dee. They co-starred in many stage productions and films, including “Purlie Victorious,” which Davis wrote, and during the 1970s had their own radio show, “The Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour.” Among his best-known film roles are “The Joe Louis Story” (1953), and his directorial debut was a comedy-action film, “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (1970).
Together, Dee and Davis are considered to be the mother and father of black theater and were active in the American Civil Rights movement for many years. They have been honored by the U.S. government with a National Medal of Arts; by the American Theater with an introduction into the Theatre Hall of Fame; and by the Screen Actors Guild with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dee and Davis were joint Kennedy Center honorees in December 2005. They were cited not only for their “theatrical and film achievement,” but because they opened “many a door previously shut tight to African American artists and planted the seed for the flowering of America’s multicultural humanity.”