Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee

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

Timeline 1940-1959: Part 1 | Part 2 >

1940
Ruby joins the American Negro Theatre, making her stage debut in Abram Hill’s On Strivers Row.

Ruby talks about joining the American Negro Theatre.

1941
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.
 
1942
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.

1943
Ruby makes her Broadway debut in South Pacific (no relation to the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical).

1944
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.

1945
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.

Ruby and Ossie talk about first impressions.


  1946
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.
  1947
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.

Timeline 1940-1959: Part 1 | Part 2 >


A. Philip Randolph, 1944
Photographed by Gordon Parks
Library of Congress

Ossie in uniform, c. 1942.
Dee-Davis Archives

Ruby and Ossie with the cast of Jeb

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Ruby and Ossie with the cast of Jeb, c. 1945.