Raiford Chatman "Ossie" Davis, actor, writer, producer, director, has carved out a phenomenal career as one of the most distinguished actors of this century. The fact that he is African American and came of age in a time when equality between the races was hardly taken for granted has profoundly impacted his work and, to a greater extent, his life. From his start in community theater during the height of the Great Depression, through his stage and film work during the hurricane of the Civil Rights Movement, Ossie Davis has been a strong, forceful voice for human dignity and social justice.
Raiford Chatman Davis was born on December 18, 1917, in Cogdell, Georgia. The oldest of five children born to Laura Cooper and Kince Davis, he picked up his signature nickname when friends and neighbors mistook his mother's pronunciation of his initial's, "R.C…," as "Ossie." A child of the Deep South, he encountered rampant racism but learned to keep quiet in order to avoid retaliation. Moving north, he became more vocal against civil rights abuses while a student at Howard University, and later as a young playwright and actor in New York City. At Howard University, under the tutelage of drama critic Alain Locke, Mr. Davis developed his theatrical talent, and began his career as a writer and an actor with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem in 1939.
In 1946, Mr.Davis made his Broadway debut in Jeb, where he won rave reviews, and went on to perform in many Broadway productions, including Anna Lucasta, The Wisteria Trees, Green Pastures, Jamaica, Ballad for Bimshire, The Zulu and the Zayda, and the stage version of I'm Not Rappaport. In 1961, Mr. Davis wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed Purlie Victorious.
He was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 1994. Mr. Davis is also widely acclaimed for his role in Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun (1959) and its 1961 film version, as well as for The Joe Louis Story (1953). He has written and directed numerous films, including Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Countdown at Kusini (co-produced with his wife, Ruby Dee, in 1976), the first American feature film to be shot entirely in Africa by black professionals. Mr. Davis has also starred in numerous films that address issues critical to African Americans, such as Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), and Malcolm X (1994).
Mr. Davis most recently appeared in the film, Dr. Doolittle, with Eddie Murphy; Get on the Bus for Spike Lee; I'm Not Rappaport with Walter Matthau; 12 Angry Men for Showtime Network; and on the CBS television series, Promised Land.
Mr. Davis has received innumerable honors and citations, including the Hall of Fame Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in 1989; the U.S. National Medal for the Arts in 1995; the New York Urban League Frederick Douglass Award; the NAACP Image Award. He is the author of three children's books, Escape to Freedom, which was honored by the American Library Association and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award; Langston; and Just Like Martin.
Mr. Davis has enjoyed a long and luminous career in entertainment, along with his fellow performer, stage and screen collaborator, and political activist wife, Ruby Dee. They have enjoyed an incredibly fruitful and enduring union of over 50 years that has seen them collaborate on a wide range of creative, charitable, political, and social projects. Married in 1948, they are the parents of three children, and have recently enjoyed the publication of their joint autobiography, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.