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The late Ossie Davis would have been 100 years old today. The legendary, actor, author, playwright, poet, and civil rights activist was born on this day in 1917.

Davis was born Raiford Chatman Davis in South Georgia’s Clinch County. Raised in the rural south, Davis and his family faced severe discrimination and threats from the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. At the urging of his family, he attended Howard University but dropped out after three years to pursue writing and drama as a career.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Davis began used his training with the Rose McLendon Players of Harlem to dive deeper into his craft. His first big film role came in 1950, alongside another actor he admired greatly – Sidney Poitier.

The late actress Ruby Dee and Davis became one of Hollywood’s top celebrity couples with the pair often working together in and outside their profession. As activists, the couple befriended and worked alongside notables such as Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X among others. The couple served as masters of ceremony for the 1963 March on Washington, and Davis delivered a moving eulogy for Malcolm X as well.

While Davis did not enjoy as much mainstream acclaim as did other Black actors of his era, he and Dee worked for decades in an industry that recognized their talent and grace. Even when Davis played a character of average means, he brought dignity to everything by way of his booming voice and calming presence.

Honors bestowed upon both Davis and Dee include the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Davis passed in February 2005. His wife passed in 2014.

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