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Ossie Davis: My Neighbor, the Subversive
(Excerpt from Airwaves - published collection of editorials)
By William O'Shaughnessy
Copyright 1985 William O'Shaughnessy
In this excerpt, the writer recollects when Ossie Davis, famous playright and actor, was reported by local police authorities as a subversive.
Preface in book by writer
Ossie Davis lives a few blocks from our community radio station. I will leave it to others to assess and evaluate his contributions to the theater, film, and television. We know him as a neighbor who has a deep and abiding love for his home health. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, his brilliant, talented wife of fifty years, are among Westchester's most beloved citizens. To me, he is only an authentic, living, modern-day saint.

It was a morning in winter, and my shoulders were heavy with the cold. I sat at a kitchen table on Sunday morning and read in the local Gannett newspaper that a policeman of this city called Ossie Davis a "subversive." This particular subversive is described as: "A male Negro, 6 feet and 2 inches, 195 pounds, born December 18, 1927 in Cogdell, Georgia, the son of Charles Kince and Laura Cooper Kince. Attended Howard University, 1935 to 1938. Married to the former Ruby Wallace on 9/19/48. Stage name now: Ruby Dee (a known Communist sympathizer). Three children: Nora, Guy and Lawrence."
And what did this Ossie Davis do to earn his very own file in the police department of the city he has distinguished for so long? He produced a show for a dangerous group called Freedom Riders. In that sinister production was another "known Communist sympathizer" named Pete Seeger as well as the previously mentioned woman, "Ruby Wallace, a/k/a Ruby Dee."
During this period, when he was a threat to our republic, Ossie Davis "appeared with Dr. Spock" and "spoke in support of the anti-draft and anti-war movement." They even had exact dates. On December 7, 1961, he signed a statement entitled: "Could Westchester Survive a Nuclear Attack?" In 1966 he sponsored a Voter's March in Washington." On and on. You felt sick that your police chief was writing and accumulating things like this about a neighbor. And a nice tidy piece of police work it was, leaving out any mention of other subversive works, such as A Raisin in the Sun or Purlie Victorious - or any of Ossie Davis's other priceless gifts to the American theater.
As bad as I felt at the kitchen table that Sunday morning, I believe I shall have a great, good laugh about all this when Mr. Davis next comes right through the front door of this radio station, WVOX, which he calls his hometown station. It will be fairly soon, I expect, when he will appear in my office to speak a word for one of his current subversive causes or to enlist the conscience of our listeners to right some damn awful thing done to some forgotten and hurting souls in our home heath.
But on Sunday, while the Gannett exclusive story about his most questionable past was being delivered around the county, "the subversive" was actually preaching in one of those big, Black, Baptist churches. As he waited to be introduced to a huge congregation of ladies in their dresses and white gloves, the regular minister called him "an inspiration, the most valuable Westchester citizen of our time, a great American actor, a brilliant playwright and director, and our neighbor." But now we know better, thanks to the official files of our own police department.
I couldn't resist sharing this marvelous story with the governor of my own state of New York, Mario M. Cuomo, who, with all his talk about the poor and homeless, is pretty subversive in his own right these days. So there I was on the telephone Sunday morning, spreading the word about these dazzling revelations concerning a neighbor and just what my police department had to say about Ossie Davis and the former Ruby Wallace. And Mario Cuomo fell silent for a moment and then he said into the telephone: "You know, it really wasn't that long ago." The governor is right. It happened in the good old days, in our city.
January 29, 1985