Symbol of Strength, Integrity, Activism Dies at 87

“Any form of art is a form of power, it has impact, it can affect change – it can not only move us, it makes us move.” Ossie Davis

Ossie Davis, one of the black community’s strongest symbols of integrity and success, died yesterday while on a trip to Florida. The legacy of this human rights activist, actor, director and Howard alum will live on through his films, writings, students and speeches.

Reuters reports that the actor’s grandson and paramedics discovered his body at the Shore Club hotel in Miami Beach. Police spokesman Bobby Hernandez told reporters that the grandson mentioned Davis was suffering from heart disease, which prompted him to call the fire rescue when Davis did not answer a knock on his hotel-room door.

Davis’s office in Los Angeles reported that he was shooting the film “Retirement,” which featured him, George Segal and Rip Torn as four grumpy old men who leave their Florida retirement homes and take a trip to Las Vegas in hopes of stopping an unwanted marriage.

After his Broadway debut in 1946 in the role of “Jeb,” Davis went on to starr in “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Jungle Fever,” Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” and “Roots: The Next Generation.” As a tribute to Davis, Broadway theaters will dim their lights for one minute tonight.

President H. Patrick Swygert described Davis as “a stalwart of the community and a reliable presence at key events, particularly those celebrating African-American history and culture or earmarking the progress of his beloved Alma Mater,” in a statement to the Howard community. Davis served as orator for Howard’s 2004 Charter Day and also received a special achievement citation.

Although he had a remarkable career in film, television and stage, Davis did not forget to give back, particularly to students. He shared the secrets of success with students in the John H. Johnson School of Communications while acting as visiting professor and inspired many with his presence in mainstream media during a time when blacks always took the back seat, if any seat at all.

The respect African Americans throughout the country have for Davis and his wife of 57 years, actress Ruby Dee, was expressed in the naming of the couple to the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame 1989 and the Kennedy Center Honors they received last year.

Davis once said: “Struggle is strengthening. Battling with evil gives us the power to battle evil even more.” He was a man of his word because he fought the battle for human rights and equality his entire life. The legacy of Ossie Davis will live on in black history.