Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, two of our most beloved performers, have long been known as brilliant actors and staunch activists for African-American human rights and social justice. But to their children, they were simply Mom and Dad. Their daughters, Nora Davis Day and Hasna Muhammad, spoke with EBONY about what it was like growing up in their household.
Nora Davis Day
I grew up in what I call the “bean days,” when we didn’t always have meat for dinner, so it was ordinary and extraordinary. If you open the door, here comes [the author] John O. Killens or Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte. But to us they were visitors, uncles and aunts.
We were still expected to clean the bathroom, take out the garbage, shovel the snow, do our homework and be excellent. We never got a sense of grandeur about it because, while these people were in the living room holding conversation, we’d be in the kitchen, maybe with our grandmother, making coffee for them. We got to eavesdrop a little bit on history. As we got older we’d participate, but when we were kids it was time to go to bed usually.
Education was very important [to our parents] but it wasn’t just restricted to school. Our education was much broader. We might find ourselves in a synagogue listening to Mom and Dad read poetry or in a mosque. It was a nontraditional life in a traditional setting.
We talked around the dinner table all the time. We didn’t watch television. It took us forever to get one because they said that when Black people were on television in a way that was respectful and inclusive then we’d get one. We finally did when I was around 13, but we couldn’t watch it except on the weekends.