The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at The New York Public Library has acquired the full archive of actors and activists Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. The extensive archive includes more than 178.85 linear feet of material spanning eight decades of the couple’s careers in theater, film and television; their near 60-year relationship and marriage; and their social, civic, and political activities between 1932 and 2014.
Correspondence between Davis and Dee included in the archive provides an intimate look into the couple’s influence as partners in love and life. Handwritten letters between the two capture the affectionate moments of their courtship, proposal, and marriage. Exchanges with friends such as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Lena Horne reflect the breadth of their close relationships with some of America’s leading cultural and political figures of the 20th century.
Highlights of the Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee archive include:
- 50 years of correspondence between Davis and Dee, dating back to their courtship, offering an intimate window into their relationship and in some instances, their perspectives concerning their craft
- An array of never-before-seen materials devoted to Davis and Dee’s relationship with Malcolm X, including 15 postcards and three letters from Malcolm X during his foundational Hajj in Mecca and his 1964 trip to Africa
- Ruby Dee’s original bound script of “A Raisin in the Sun” with autographed text changes and notes, and printed notation that the title was pending approval from Langston Hughes
- A note to Ruby Dee from Lorraine Hansberry on the opening night of “A Raisin in the Sun”
- A Western Union telegram from Langston Hughes to Ruby Dee expressing appreciation for her performance of his poem at the A. Philip Randolph testimonial
- Handwritten greeting card from Coretta Scott King to Davis and Dee
- Material related to the couple’s years of political and social work, including the March on Washington and the couple’s activities with union Local 1199
- A large number of Davis and Dee’s television interviews, speeches and appearances over the decades, as well as master copies of their television show “With Ossie & Ruby”
- A rare copy of an independent film “Countdown at Kusini” that Davis directed and that the couple starred in
- An extensive reference archive of poetry, folk songs, tales, and sayings, many directly related to the African American experience
This acquisition is the latest within the Schomburg’s Home to Harlem initiative, following those of James Baldwin, Sonny Rollins, Ann Petry, and annotated manuscripts of the “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Home to Harlem is centered on bringing the archives of Harlem’s most influential social and cultural figures to the Schomburg for research and study, on Arturo Schomburg’s legacy of Black librarianship, and on exploring the historical and contemporary role of Harlem as the Black cultural capital of the world.
Learn More About the Archive, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis