Nearly two years after the Harlem-based Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture acquired the archives of late legendary actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, the institution has now made them available to the public for the first time, the New York Public Library reported.
Their mementos are a part of a project dubbed Home to Harlem; an initiative designed to explore pivotal parts of Black history through the lens of influential African Americans who had personal and cultural connections to the New York City neighborhood. Among the couple’s items that are featured in the project—which are reflective of the work they’ve done in the arts and activism spaces —include postcards and letters they exchanged with civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, and Coretta Scott King as well as correspondence with literary giants James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and singer and actor Paul Robeson. The collection also includes Ruby Dee’s original script for “A Raisin in the Sun” marked with her handwritten notes and transcripts from the couple’s radio and television shows Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee Story Hour and With Ossie & Ruby.
“Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were pillars of creativity, friendship, and support during the greatest artistic and political movements of our time,” Kevin Young, Director of the Schomburg Center, said in a statement after the acquisition. “Their love for each other and for their closest friends, as well as their commitment to advancing social progress through the arts and advocacy, is reflected in the vastness of this archive.” After being acquired the items were only available to researchers, but leaders at the institution say they wanted to share the historic pieces with a broader audience to make a larger impact.
The archives of Black pioneers Maya Angelou, Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, Kathleen Collins and Ann Petry are also open to the public. “Together, these significant archives represent the pinnacle of Black excellence, with a particular focus on Black women,” read a statement released by the Schomburg Center.
Dee and Davis have deep ties to the institution. The building where the Schomburg Center lives once housed the American Negro Theatre—founded in the 1940s—where the two actors got their start. The Harlem community has been dedicated to keeping their legacies alive. In 2019 the corner of 123rd Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue was named after them.