Vox Populi: The O'Shaughnessy Files

By William O’Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

FUNERAL SERVICE FOR OSSIE DAVIS

Mario Cuomo once told me he prays for “sureness.” I’m
sure of only one thing: Ossie Davis was a saint.

EARL GRAVES: Welcome to our farewell to “Ossie.” For that’s all you had to say, and people knew you were talking about Ossie Davis.

You could tell from the big smile they gave you, just about anywhere in the nation. There was only one Ossie if you lived in Harlem, where his distinguished stage career began sixty years ago, or at Howard University, or the state of Georgia, or BedfordStuyvesant, or St. Louis, or Sag Harbor, or Detroit, or Chicago’s South Side, or even Beverly Hills.

And wherever you come from or wherever you’ve been since his passing, if two or more African Americans were present, you heard the same thing, “Have you heard about Ossie?” Of course, it wasn’t just us. The world loved Ossie and Ruby. Again, no last name needed.

I want to say only a few words in Ossie’s memory on behalf of his friends. All one billion of us. As Ruby said, “Ossie would be upset if his funeral ran so long that it needed an intermission.” (laughter)

He achieved many things. A great artist, a fearless activist, a committed educator, a motivator without peer, Ossie considered himself a citizen of the world with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, culture, and ideas. A humanist in the purest sense, he believed our society’s commitment to equality and basic justice should be firm and nonnegotiable. Whenever and wherever that social contract was broken or threatened, Ossie stood on the front lines to demand justice. And he was built for the job. Ossie was a formidable man, both physically and intellectually, with a voice God must have patterned after His own.

At the same time, Ossie had a gentle soul and a joyful spirit. Most of all, he was a gentleman, and wherever he walked, he was accompanied by integrity. In this era of caution and compromise,

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