Dee studied at the American Negro Theater in New York City before landing jobs on Broadway in the 1940s, where she met her husband of 56 years and frequent collaborator, Ossie Davis. (He passed away in 2005.) She then became the first black women to play leads at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn. in 1965.
A civil rights activist, Dee served alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X as masters of ceremonies for the historic March on Washington. She later spoke at the funerals of both king and Malcom X.
Throughout her film and television career, Dee collaborated five times with Sidney Poitier, including one of her best known films, A Raisin in the Sun. She also starred in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing alongside her husband and won an Emmy for supporting actress for 1990's Decoration Day. But it wasn't until she played the mother of Denzel Washington's character in American Gangster that Dee received an Oscar nomination at the age of 83.
Dee is survived by three children and seven grandchildren