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Danny Glover on Ossie Davis: “He Saw No Separation Between His Social Commitment and His Artistic Commitment”

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To remember Ossie Davis, we speak with actor Danny Glover and journalist Herb Boyd. Glover says, “I wanted to mirror my career after Ossie Davis…He knew the role that culture and art played in elevating us as human beings.” [includes rush transcript]

  • Danny Glover, actor and activist. He joins us from Helsinki.
  • Herb Boyd, journalist and author of “We Shall Overcome” which includes an audio commentary of the civil rights movement narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we remember the great actor and playwright, director and civil rights activist, we’re joined now by Danny Glover from Helsinki, actor who worked with Ossie in 1998, read Langston Hughes poetry together at New York University. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Danny.

DANNY GLOVER: Good morning. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

DANNY GLOVER: It’s good to be here. I was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over the weekend when I heard about Ossie’s death, and his passing, and certainly, he’s been on my mind and in my thoughts, he and Ruby have both been on my mind and in my thoughts.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you were in Ethiopia for the anniversary of the birth of Bob Marley with Harry Belafonte?

DANNY GLOVER: Yes, we were there together. Harry couldn’t make it, but I was there as part of a symposium and the celebration. The symposium was sponsored by the AU, and also the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, and I couldn’t help but thinking, as I heard about Ossie, in fact, it’s so ironic that Ambassador Dudley Thompson from Jamaica was there, and we mentioned — the day before — that day, that Friday, we talked about Ossie. Certainly, the news had not hit the wire wave — the wire yet, but we talked about Ossie. And Ossie would have been there if he could. He would have been at this — been there for this extraordinary moment. But we lost so much in Ossie. Ossie there is certainly a champion. He stood on the march. He stayed on the march, and he was on the journey. He was always reporting for duty. There was no — there’s not a time when you would ask Ossie, could you sign onto something? Could you be a part of something? Whether it was about the war, the current war in Iraq, you know, or whether it was about Mumia Abu Jamal, whatever it was about, Ossie was always there for us.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, later in the program we’re going to play Mumia Abu Jamal’s thoughts on Ossie Davis and an interview that he did with him before he was imprisoned, an interview he did back in 1980. We’re also joined by Herb Boyd, journalist and author of a number of books. In your last book, you have a two CD set of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee reading the history of the 1960s, Herb.

HERB BOYD: They narrate what I have considered as kind of a veritable soundtrack of the civil rights movement. Just getting them to be a part of the project, of course, I had — like many, many of your listeners and viewers out there, I had admired Ossie and Ruby from afar, and I was really nervous about working with them, and somewhat reluctant even to impose on them given their hectic schedules. I knew of their schedules, because I had been covering them for the last 20 years. I said, the worst they can do is say no, but they said yes. We went into the studio. We put together the script and everything. Four-and-a-half hours we were out of there. Consummate professionals. Just love — Ossie was just so good in his presentations. Ruby — Ossie was determined to do his three times. Look here, you take the best of what I do, and — just so tragically ironic that almost 60 years together that in the last moments they were so geographically apart. But I think spiritually they are always combined.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruby Dee was in New Zealand.

HERB BOYD: New Zealand, yes, when she got the news. For me, they personify — you know, talk about America’s couple. You know, they were like the struggles couple. They were out there on call. If they were available, and the cause was progressive, they found time to be there.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny Glover, I last saw Ossie Davis at an event that was really a protest rally against the coup in Haiti on February 29. The Aristides had just been brought back to this hemisphere, to Jamaica, after being pushed out to the Central African Republic. There were about 1,000 people gathered in Brooklyn. Ossie Davis addressed the crowd. Your thoughts on the way Ossie and, of course, he’s survived by his wife, Ruby Dee, combined politics and theater and art.

DANNY GLOVER: Well, Ossie saw no separation between the two. He saw no separation — he linked his social commitment to his artistic commitment. In fact, I spoke with Ossie about three weeks ago, right after New Year’s. We talked, and he said something that I don’t have with me, but I jotted down. He said, it’s going to take artists — artists to save us and save humanity from machines and technology. We had worked to do, so Ossie knew the role that art played and knew that culture played in transformation. He knew the role that culture and art played in elevating us as human beings. If you see — I think one of the things that I have always felt about my career is that when I thought about my career, the person that I mirrored my career after, wanted to mirror my career after was Ossie Davis, because it was something so — so very — his presence and his dignity is the presence of first of all his enormous size, and then the fact that he was there every moment, every moment, and he lost no connection between whether it’s Paul Robeson to Abu Jamal, to the war, to the Aristides, to democracy in Haiti, to the Iraq war, to the Vietnam war. There was no — they were all connected. They were all connected, and they were all struggles that we needed to stand up and stand tall for.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Danny Glover, we want to thank you very much for joining us from Helsinki, just back from Ethiopia. And Herb Boyd, thank you for being us with.

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