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

Timeline 1960 – 1979


The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) begins to organize Freedom Rides throughout the South to desegregate interstate public bus travel. To support these efforts, the first live performance of Ossie’s play, Purlie Victorious, is a benefit for CORE.

Purlie Victorious opens on Broadway, runs for 261 performances.


Malcolm X becomes national minister of the Nation of Islam.


Ossie co-produces an off-Broadway musical, Ballad For Bimshire, with associates Irving Burgie, Sylvester Leeks, Ewart Guinier, Ed Cambridge, and Loften Mitchell.

W.E.B. Du Bois dies in Ghana.

Ossie and Ruby are emcees at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, is bombed, killing four girls.

Ossie and Ruby - with James Baldwin, John O. Killens, Clarence Jones, Odetta, and others - form the Association of Artists for Freedom, which calls for a Christmas boycott to protest the church bombing, and to make “our Christmas gifts contribution to civil rights organizations.”


The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), with other civil-rights groups, organizes “Freedom Summer”-a massive voter registration drive-in Mississippi.

Three CORE civil rights workers—Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman—are murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

LBJ signs the Civil Rights Act, which gives the federal government powers to prosecute discrimination in employment, voting, and education.


Malcolm X is assassinated in Harlem. Ossie delivers the eulogy at his funeral. The Committee of Concerned Mothers, formed by Ruby, Juanita Poitier, and others, raise funds to buy a house for Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s widow, and their six daughters. The Voting Rights Act is signed into law. U.S. troop levels in Vietnam reach 200,000.


Ossie and Ruby participate in a "Read-In for Peace in Vietnam."

A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin promote the Freedom Budget for All Americans, a plan to end poverty by 1975.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.


Martin Luther King, Jr. publicly speaks out against the Vietnam War in New York City at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam - at which Ossie also speaks.


Ruby makes her screenwriting debut with Jules Dassin’s Up Tight!

Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis. Ossie and Ruby attend the Memorial march in Memphis, where Ossie speaks, and then the funeral in Atlanta.

Shirley Chisholm becomes the first African American woman to be elected to Congress.


Ossie Davis makes his directing debut with Cotton Comes to Harlem Ossie travels to Nigeria, to direct a film adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest.

Ruby wins Obie and Drama Desk awards for her performance in Boesman and Lena.

Purlie, the musical based on Ossie’s play, garners five Tony nominations and and wins two awards.


Fifteen African American members of Congress form the Congressional Black Caucus to present a unified African American voice in Congress.

In collaboration with other artists, Ossie founds Third World Cinema Corporation, which aims to “increase minority presence in all aspects of the film industry.”


Ruby compiles and edits Glowchild, an anthology of poetry written by young people.


Ossie and Ruby are awarded the Actors’ Equity Paul Robeson Citation "for outstanding creative contributions both in the performing arts and in society at large."

Ossie and Ruby begin their weekly radio show, The Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee Story Hour, on National Black Network.


Ossie and Ruby partner with her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, to produce the film Countdown at Kusini in Nigeria.


Alex Haley’s Roots airs on ABC.

First grandchild, Ihsaana, is born.


Ruby begins a weekly column, Swinging Gently, for the New York Amsterdam News.


Ruby’s first play, the musical Take It From The Top (developed in workshop at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater), is produced at Woodie King’s New Federal Theatre.

Ossie’s play, Escape to Freedom, wins the Jane Addams’ Children’s Book Award and the ALA’s Coretta Scott King Award.

Second grandchild, Muta’Ali, is born.