Politically active actors are not a rarity, but Ossie Davis, who died on February 4, aged 87, towered over most of them. What is truly rare is for art and political conviction to be so powerfully allied in one man. “He made no distinction between his art and his political convictions,” said Jewell Handy Gresham, a friend and editor of The Nation‘s special issue on the black family (July 24, 1989), to which Davis was the sole male contributor. Gresham recalled that Davis’s fiercely devoted wife and longtime acting partner, Ruby Dee, was opposed to his saliency as the lone male. After the issue was nominated for a National Magazine Award, he felt vindicated. “Jewell,” he said, “thanks for helping me show the woman I love we were right.” Davis and Dee, who often co-starred on stage, were co-stars in the civil rights movement since the 1940s, and were emcees at the 1963 March on Washington. Ossie Davis never curtailed his fight for equality out of concern for his career. He was a robust orator and versatile writer, author of the hit play Purlie Victorious, which satirized racial stereotypes. For a 2000 Nation Institute banquet, he wrote, “America is still the Great Unfinished Land, needing more from its lovers than just our death and taxes….” His eloquence won him the assignment of delivering eulogies at many funerals, most famously Malcolm X’s, of whom he said, “He…was our shining black prince” and “in honoring him we honor the best in ourselves.” That could be Davis’s epitaph, says Gresham.


Barbara Boxer, profiled in this issue, knows what’s needed for Democrats to become the majority party again. Unfortunately, many in the party don’t. Beginning with this issue, every other week David Sirota of the Center for American Progress will single out Democrats whose actions help, and hurt, the cause.

Permanent Minority:

Representative Allen Boyd has the dubious distinction of being the first Democrat to endorse privatizing Social Security. Newly elected Colorado Senator Ken Salazar defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s nomination, despite his involvement in the Iraq torture scandals.

Toward the Majority:

Montana Senator Max Baucus, who helped the White House pass its 2001 tax cuts for the rich and its Medicare bill, came out against Social Security privatization, signaling other red-state Democrats to strongly oppose the President’s plan. Most Senate Democrats voted against Gonzales.