Ruby Dee, legendary actress and wife of civil rights leader Ossie Davis, dead at 91

WikimediaRuby Dee

Award-winning actress Ruby Dee passed away at her home Wednesday in New Rochelle, New York. Dee's spokesman, Michael Livingston, announced the news Thursday. She was 91.

Dee's daughter, Nora Davis Day, told reporters that her mother passed away peacefully from natural causes, and was surrounded by family and friends.

"We have had her for so long and we loved her so much," Day said, according to the Associated Press.

"We gave her our permission to set sail," she continued. "She opened her eyes, closed her eyes and away she went."

The actress was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1922. She became a Broadway actress after college, and kept first husband Frankie Dee's last name as her stage name after they divorced. In 1948, Ruby Dee married late actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis. They had three children.

Her big break came with her role as Rae, Jackie Robinson's wife, in the 1950 film "The Jackie Robinson Story." She was also critically-acclaimed for her performance in the 1961 film adaptation of "A Raisin in the Sun."

Dee was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Frank Lucas' mother in "American Gangster," and has won many awards in her over 60-year career, including a Grammy, Emmy, two Screen Actors Guild awards.

In addition to their illustrious entertainment careers, Dee and Davis were heavily involved in the civil rights movement.

"We used the arts as part of our struggle," she during a 2006 speech. "Ossie said he knew he had to conduct himself differently with skill and thought."

The couple were friends with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson, and other civil rights leaders, and Dee spoke at both Dr. King's and Malcolm X's funerals. Dee was also a longtime member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP, and the Congress of Racial Equality.

Ruby Dee is survived by her children, Nora, Hasna, and Guy, and seven grandchildren.