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Mumia Abu Jamal Remembers Ossie Davis: “A Lion Has Fallen”

StoryFebruary 07, 2005
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We play a prison radio commentary by journalist and death row prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal. He remembers Ossie Davis and plays an interview with him from 1980. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: And today, we end the program with Mumia Abu Jamal and his tribute to Ossie Davis from death row in Pennsylvania.

MUMIA ABU JAMAL: Ossie Davis, our own black shining star. A lion has fallen. Ossie Davis, the deep voiced, proud and majestic man who has performed on stage, film, television and community centers, has passed from this life at the age of 87 years, leaving behind him the radiant and talented Ruby Dee, his co-star on life’s broad stage, and millions of mourners the world over. In whatever role he accepted, he projected a rare and matchless dignity. Ossie Davis was a brave man who didn’t just play one on TV. At a time when it was personally, politically and career-wise dangerous, he stepped forth to support the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s and wrote his legacy large in black America’s history when he delivered the touching and heartfelt eulogy to the black nationalist leader, Malcolm X. His words leavened with love and courage were as much a tribute to Malcolm as they were to himself, for they reflected a deep and abiding love for black people, even though seen as enemies of the state. Of Malcolm, he would say, he was our own black shining prince who didn’t hesitate to give his life because he loved us so. Many years ago, perhaps around 1980, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ossie Davis and his lovely wife Ruby. I found a generous, humorous, sweet and deep soul. Ossie talked about what being in the arts meant to him.

OSSIE DAVIS: Our history is about survival under impossible circumstances, and I would like to do something that dramatized those instances where we were able to survive even though we didn’t have the means to survive, that magical thing that people sometimes have when they reach within themselves, and find something that they didn’t even know was there, that helped us to make it over. And I know these stories. I talk about them. I tell them, but it would be so much better if I could do it in a way that a mass audience could be reached, that means the drama first of all, that means motion pictures. That means television and radio and everything.

MUMIA ABU JAMAL: All right, all right. I hear the sound of pure pandemonium breaking loose. The audience is coming in. The actors are stretching, as you say, and groaning and getting their thing together, and the technicians are technocating, whatever technicians do, and you must get ready for the beginning of this performance. We thank you for the time you and your wife have taken, and we want to transmit to you, as well as you transmit to us through your work, through your life, that we love you.

OSSIE DAVIS: Thank you to all of the audience who listen to this, to you and through you that I, too, love you. Without you, there would be no me. Thank you.

MUMIA ABU JAMAL: From that spark of inspiration and the magic of a marriage to the wondrous Ruby Dee, the arts under both of their singular talents have been rewarded. I asked him about the impact of their politics on their careers and he easily answered that they always found something to do. If it was a play in a black college or neighborhood community center, for there was no community that closed their doors to their talent and their spirits. He added, that he didn’t need much. But for most young people, perhaps the grizzled old guy in Spike Lee’s movie, Do the Right Thing, sparks memories. In the flick, Davis plays Da Mayor, a street figure who pines for the attention of his love interest, played by Ruby Dee. This very role reflects the essence of what Davis and Dee have done for generations now, taken rather ordinary rules and imbued them with grace and dignity, a reflection of how they touched the lives of millions of ordinary people by reflecting the best that is within them. A country boy, from Cogdell, Georgia, Ossie Davis inspired millions through decades of performances in various media with the essential elements of dignity and the love for one’s people. He was a lion, and though he has passed, may his brilliant life inspire the lions and giants to come. From death row, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.

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