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NEA Statement on the Death of Ruby Dee

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Ruby Dee on her couch holding up a copy of Ernest Gaines A Lesson Before Dying

Ruby Dee, recipient of a 1995 National Medal of Arts. Photo by Adam Kampe

For Immediate Release

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of film legend and 1995 National Medal of Arts recipient Ruby Dee. Actress and civil rights activist, Dee was a strong advocate for African-American actors and film crews, often taking roles that addressed racial issues, such as Ruth Younger in A Raisin in the Sun.

In 2007, the NEA spoke with Dee about Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying  for the NEA's Big Read program. Dee's comments transcend the novel to reveal her outlook on who we are as human beings.

"I was thinking what an absolutely stunning set of circumstances is the human being, is the human spirit. And every one of us has this center that we have to move away the clouds and the crud and the name calling and the braggadocio and the clothes.....but we have to look and see. What comes to mind is, you know, when you take a peach, you know, you never know where the peach comes from but when you eat that peach or move it from the seed, and you look at that seed. And not only that, when you look at that seed, you look at the miracle of a seed and then you crack that seed and see another seed and know even that that seed is filled with things you can't even see, when you look at the miracle of yourself and what must be the magic of our inner life. We're lucky when we can say, "Oh yes, I am" and to say 'I am," meaning I am part of all there is. You know? I am at the center of unimaginable greatness. And how dare we not give glory and bow down to the power of the miracles that we are?”