Ossie & Ruby's Journey Through the 20th & 21st Centuries

Timeline 1940 – 1959


Ruby joins the American Negro Theatre, making her stage debut in Abram Hill’s On Strivers Row.


The United States enters World War II.

A. Philip Randolph plans a March on Washington to protest hiring discrimination in the federal government. The march was canceled only when FDR issues Executive Order 8802, the “Fair Employment Act”, which prohibits discrimination in the defense industries.


Ossie enlists in the US Army and is stationed in Liberia with the 25th Station Hospital—the first black medical unit to deploy overseas.

The Council on African Affairs is founded, with Paul Robeson as its chair, and soon emerges as the leading voice of anti-colonialism and Pan-Africanism in the U.S.


Ruby makes her Broadway debut in South Pacific (no relation to the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical).


Ruby graduates from Hunter College.

FDR signs into law the G.I. Bill of Rights to provide returning veterans with opportunities in education, job training and home ownership. While state administrative policies curtail many of the benefits for black veterans, the bill nonetheless provides them a more level playing field and greater access to higher education.


April 12 FDR dies.

May 7-8 World War II ends in Europe.

August 15 Japan surrenders, ending World War II in Asia.
June 26 United Nations is founded as fifty nations sign the UN charter.

Ossie makes his Broadway debut in Jeb - where he also meets Ruby.


WWII Veteran Maceo Snipes, the first black person to vote in Taylor County, Georgia, is murdered the day after casting his ballot. Five days later, two black couples are lynched in Monroe, Georgia. The cast of Anna Lucasta holds a benefit for their families.


With the Marshall Plan, President Truman offers economic aid to European states recovering from the war and promises assistance to any country fighting communism.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) convenes to identify and investigate communist and communist sympathizers in the Hollywood film industry.

The National Theatre, Washington DC’s only legitimate theater, bars blacks from its audience. Actors’ Equity Association (Ossie and Ruby’s home union) announces that its members will not perform there until the theater integrates.

Jackie Robinson signs on with the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play major league baseball.


W.E.B. Du Bois leaves the NAACP for the Council on African Affairs.

Former Vice-President Henry Wallace runs for President on the Progressive Party ticket, co-founded by Paul Robeson. Ossie is active in support of Wallace.

December 9 Ossie and Ruby get married.


After Robeson criticizes the US at the 1949 World Peace Conference in Paris, the State Department revokes his passport.

The publication Red Channels lists 151 entertainers and broadcast journalists with affiliations to allegedly subversive organizations. Those named are blacklisted in the movie and broadcast industries unless they clear their names by testifying before HUAC).

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks becomes the first African American to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize (for Annie Allen).

Ossie and Ruby’s first child, Nora, is born.


Ossie’s playwriting debut, Alice in Wonder, is staged with Ruby in the title role.

Second child, Guy, is born.


After speaking at a rally to secure clemency for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Ruby is listed as a “fellow traveler” in Ed Sullivan’s newspaper column.


Brown v. Board of Education ends segregation in public schools.


Ossie writes and stages The People of Clarendon County for Local 1199’s Negro History Week program, marking the beginning of a long relationship with the union and its cultural director, Moe Foner.

Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is tortured and murdered in Money, Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

In Montgomery, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white passenger. Her subsequent arrest spurs a year-long bus boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Third child, La Verne (now known as Hasna), is born.


Ossie introduces a motion calling for Actor’s Equity to support Paul Robeson’s bid to have his passport reinstated. One week later, he and Ruby are subpoenaed to testify at a New York HUAC hearing.


Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is the first play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. Ruby originates the role of Ruth. Ossie assumes the role of Walter Lee after Sidney Poitier leaves the production.