With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together

With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together

by Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee

Paperback(1 ED)

$12.04 $16.95 Save 29% Current price is $12.04, Original price is $16.95. You Save 29%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688175825
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/26/2000
Edition description: 1 ED
Pages: 528
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.32(d)

About the Author

Ossie Davis illumined America's stage and screen for two generations. He distinguished himself as a writer, actor, director, and narrator. A short list of his film work includes: I'm Not Rappaport, The Client, Grumpy Old Men, and Do the Right Thing. He and his wife Ruby Dee were 1995 recipients of the National Medal of Arts Award. On Feb. 4, 2005 Ossie Davis died at the age of 87.

Not only is Ruby Dee one of the most respected African-American actors of her day, she was also an important part of the civil rights movement. She is probably best known for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, which she performed on both the stage and the screen.

Dee has also written plays, fiction, and a column in New York's Amsterdam News.

Born in Cleveland, she worked initially with the American Negro Theater in Harlem, where she grew up. She is married to the actor and author Ossie Davis.

Read an Excerpt

I was born to laugh. The midwife who introduced me into existence by slapping my behind expected me to cry. And cry I did. But, knowing me, I probably cried to keep from laughing.

The first child of Kince and Laura Davis, I was born into a world of jokesters, black and white, waiting to tickle my feet. Take, for example, the matter of my first name. I was named after my father's father, Raiford Chatman Davis. (He put twenty-five cents in my fat little hand for the privilege.) In the South, we tend to use initials. So when the clerk at the Clinch County courthouse asked Mama who I was, she said, R. C. Davis." He thought she said, "Ossie Davis," and wrote it down that way. Mama would not have argued with him. The man was white. Mama and I were black, and down in deepest Georgia. So the matter of identification was settled. Ossie it was, and Ossie it is till this very day.

Cogdell, the little town in Georgia where I was born, was home to some four hundred souls, mostly black, who lived under the civic paternity of Alex K. Sessoms, the white man who owned Cogdell and everything in it, including the Waycross and Western, a little railroad that ran twenty-three miles from Cogdell to Waycross. It had one jitney, which had once been a streetcar that seldom carried passengers; a donkey steam engine; some boxcars and some flatcars, most of which carried timber from the swamps and stumps, and sometimes cattle, off to Waycross.

My daddy, who couldn't write his name, helped to build the Waycross and Western. I don't mean that he just labored with picks and shovels, crossties and sledgehammers; Daddy was a self-taught railway and construction engineer. He could build a railroad line fromscratch, which in that day and age was a white man's job. Daddy, of course, was black, but was not afraid and didn't give a damn about the Ku Klux Klan. The bad blood between them was the source of my first adventure.

Daddy had moved the family to Zirkle, Georgia, for a while, to help another white man build a small railroad, which ran right in front of the shack in which we lived. I was but three or four years old, and ran outdoors early one morning to play in the yard. There I found a long, tall stick driven into the ground. The stick was split at the top with a folded sheet of paper stuck in the split. I took the paper into the house and showed it to Mama, who looked at it, and let me look, too. Somebody had drawn a pistol in red ink, firing a stream of red bullets into a big, black heart from which red drops of blood were falling into a coffin. I didn't know what it meant, but Mama did.

"Oh my God, the Ku Klux Klan!"

She called a neighbor to watch me and my baby sister, put on a pretty dress, and stuck the letter and my father's pistol in her bosom. Then she walked out onto the middle of the railroad track — the one my daddy and his crew were building — and started up the road as fast as she could go, to the spot a couple of miles away where Daddy and his men were working.Everybody loved my daddy, Kince Charles Davis. Everybody except the Klan. At least that's what I thought. Daddy was a local legend, the hero of many a story told by black and white folks. It was common knowledge that he had once spent time on the chain gang, for shooting a preacher in Kissimmee, Florida, it was rumored; the preacher, it was said, had made Mama leave the church in the middle of his sermon because I was crying too loud.

My first memory of him was as a presence looming out of the myth and mystery that always surrounded him. Mama was sitting on the floor in the back of a horse and buggy giving me lunch from her breast. Daddy was sitting in the driver's seat next to Grandpa Sam, Mama's father. Cradled in her arms, I was slurping away as the old horse farted along. I remember looking up at my daddy's big broad shoulders spread across the horizon, and knowing, just from that look, that I would never die.

There were stories about Daddy told by the men who worked in his construction gang. There were stories Daddy told of himself, some of which were not quite satisfactory. For example, when we asked why he didn't have a left forefinger, like other people, he'd laugh and tell us that a bullfrog had bitten it off. Some of his men said that he had lost it long ago in a gunfight. Daddy refused to clarify the matter when we pressed. Rather he'd laugh, pick up his guitar, and play a funny tune.The letter in the split stick was to warn him to run for his life. But Daddy didn't run. He was big and strong and easy, and laughter trailed after him like a long, warm scarf in the wintertime. Everybody looked up to him and laughed a lot when he did. Everybody knew that Daddy wasn't scared of anybody, black or white. But when he got angry, a great silence could be heard in his vicinity.

The crew of men, who called him "Chief," built a big fire in the yard and kept watch all night. I was the little, big-eyed boy allowed to stay up with the rest of the men standing guard. Daddy went inside and went to sleep with his pistol on the bed right next to his hand.

The Klan never came. But that was not surprising. A black man with Daddy's skill was a rare and precious commodity to Sessoms and the other big men who ran things. They didn't mind giving him a white man's job as long as they didn't have to give him a white man's pay. It was all right for the Klan to try and run him off, but they didn't dare touch him, not while he worked for Sessoms. Daddy knew that as well as they did.

The job in Zirkle was only temporary, and when it was over, Daddy moved us back to Cogdell. As I remember it, Cogdell was a warm, country world, full of family — Grandpa and Grandma, a whole lot of uncles and aunts, but no cousins yet. I was the first grandchild, a boy, and everyone must have been waiting. They loved me to death.

Cogdell had one country store where the railroad and the dirt road intersected. It had two or three churches for black folks, a lot of woods and paths and gatherings of shanties here and there where the black folks lived. Most everybody, black and white, worked for Alex Sessoms.Sessoms had a scientific bent, and had gone all the way to France to bring back the latest method of distilling the gum from pine trees into turpentine. He also planted acres and acres of sweet potatoes; the leaves from the growing sweet potato vine were fed to his cattle while the potatoes under the ground were left for his Negroes. Cogdell was Sessoms's industrial and agricultural base, but it had no school for black folks. So off I had to go, at the age of five, in search of an education.

Grandpa Sam had moved away from Cogdell after Coot, Mama's Mama, died. He now lived in Waycross with a newly acquired wife, a schoolteacher who had little use for any of Grandpa Sam's children, including Mama. They sent me there. I remember Mama telllng Grandma that she was my mother. Then Grandma took me away.

Grandpa Sam, Mama's father, was a Methodist preacher. I don't remember ever hearing him preach. What I do remember is that he was also a carpenter, and that he called me "Jack," and enjoyed very much showing me how to use his tools.

I remember even less about my grandmother, Martha, or Coot, as they used to call her. My only memory of her places me somewhere along a country road, walking, with her and two of her women friends. They had on long, colorful dresses that covered their high, buttoned shoes. I am told that when she was buried, I was found somewhere close to the graveyard chasing a rabbit. Somehow, even now, I know that I was special to her, that she loved me, and that I returned that love with all my heart.

Cogdell of course, has vanished; it is no more, gone with the wind carrying down with it all the small things that made it seem that someday it might be a city as big and as important as Homerville, including the cemetery. Nobody knows now where Coot lies buried, not even Mama. Her resting place is grown over now with grass and brush and trees, as so many southern black cemeteries are, when a city gives up the ghost and the people who inhabited it move on. I certainly wish I knew where to find her grave. But I don't.

Still, wherever she is, I hope the spot is quiet and peaceful, with some sense of respect for the love, suffering, and sacrifice that must have filled her bosom. I hope she knows that her first grandchild would like to know her again, now that he has come to some understanding of who you really are, Coot. You and Daddy's Mama, deep people of the shadows, were the backbone of the black man's survival and existence. No one yet has chronicled the peculiar woman's price you paid that kept us all alive. Coot, wherever you are and wherever lie your remains, you are still very much a part of the family.

Copyright ) 1998 by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Table of Contents

PART ONE Before We Met
CHAPTER 1 Ruby Is Born at Seven3
CHAPTER 2 Ossie Is Still a Mistake7
CHAPTER 3 Under One Roof12
CHAPTER 4 The Waycross Years20
CHAPTER 5 From the Fire Escape30
CHAPTER 6 Center High School and Valdosta, 1930-193441
CHAPTER 7 Ruby's Harlem56
CHAPTER 8 The Howard Years, 1935-193972
CHAPTER 9 Steps Along the Way88
CHAPTER 10 Ossie's Harlem99
CHAPTER 11 Some Men in My Life120
CHAPTER 12 World War Two, 1942-1945124
CHAPTER 13 Ruby Turning Corners139
CHAPTER 14 Home Is the Soldier144
CHAPTER 15 We Meet147
CHAPTER 16 Jeb: The Play Is the Thing151
CHAPTER 17 The American Negro Theatre: Anna Lucasta157
CHAPTER 18 The Fight Never Ends172
CHAPTER 19 Hookin' Up182
CHAPTER 20 Movies and Complications187
CHAPTER 21 Giant Steps202
CHAPTER 22 Tall Targets222
CHAPTER 23 Connections to the Left231
CHAPTER 24 The World of Sholom Aleichem and Beyond239
CHAPTER 25 The Plot Thickens252
CHAPTER 26 New Work, New Territory271
CHAPTER 27 Big Breakthroughs280
CHAPTER 28 Struggle, Realities, and Art295
CHAPTER 29 Marches, Movements, and Martyrs304
CHAPTER 30 Sex Comes out of the Closet315
CHAPTER 31 In Control, but Still in Crisis326
CHAPTER 32 The Family Comes of Age346
CHAPTER 33 A Teaspoonful of Power364
CHAPTER 34 We, the Family, Become a Company377
CHAPTER 35 Going Through the Fire396
CHAPTER 36 My One Good Nerve404
CHAPTER 37 Now That We Are Elders415
CHAPTER 38 Love, Marriage, and Struggle425
CHAPTER 39 A Bridge to Ourselves440

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews