Daughter of Ruby Dee Davis and Ossie Davis Reflects with Heart and Photography



Photo: Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media

Dr. Hasna Muhammad, daughter of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, is exhibiting a memorial collection of photographs called, “Final Days,” planned April 7 through June 1 at the Gallery at Still River Editions in Danbury, CT.

“In the 60’s we used our children as pawns in a dangerous game. They were our weapons they had to be because we had no other. And so we set them up before the world and all its cameras and lights and microphones as symbols…something to show America exactly what was at stake for us. At demonstrations, at rallies, on picket lines and freedom marches, we used our children to make a desperate point. Through hostile crowds of mean and angry whites, and snapping dogs, and water cannons, and billy clubs, we led our children. We made our way sometimes through blood and the threats of gunfire into strange classrooms. We called it a victory, and we left them there.” Acclaimed the late Ossie Davis in his writings.

“Final Days,” is a collection of revealing prints that capture the passing of loved ones in Muhammad’s family – starting in 2005 with the public viewing of her father’s body at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. “A lot of folks say ‘How can you take a photograph now?’ and ‘It’s a barrier between you and the experience,’ but I say, contrary to that, it is part of my experience,” said Muhammad. “It took me awhile to understand and own that.”

Photo credit Pending

“My father passed away unexpectedly on Friday, February 4, 2005, and we had six ceremonial celebrations of his final days: a private wake at McClanahan’s Funeral Home; a public viewing at Abyssinian Baptist Church; a public funeral at The Riverside Church; the private Mason’s ceremony; a private cremation service at Ferncliff Cemetery; and the private temporary burial of his ashes in the front yard of our family home. Because I wanted to hold on to my father; because I wanted to remember everything that happened—what I saw, what I felt; and because I am a photographer, I took hundreds of images during those final days as well as the days that surrounded them.”

Muhammad pressed the shutter button, shooting through the diamond shapes of a stained glass window to capture the press crowded around her father’s hearse. 

It can certainly be said that the surprisingly intimate images are another signature about living. The pictures are about what can remain from what can be collected. They are photographs that appear to allow so much of Muhammad herself to come through, and they truly do speak to our us in an all too human way!

Muhammad said, “I took hundreds of more photographs for the same reason when my mother passed away nine years later. For her final days, we held a private funeral at McClanahan’s, her private cremation service at Ferncliff, and her public memorial service at The Riverside Church. As my parents requested, we privately co-mingled their ashes and placed them into one urn which we subsequently buried at Ferncliff at the 11th and last ceremony of their final days.”

All of the images that I took provide a private healing space as well as a public tribute to my parents’ legacies.

“Lowering the Lid was taken during the moment when the family closed the lid of my mother’s casket. The Public was taken in a stairwell at Abyssinian where through leaded glass windows I saw other photographers taking photos of my father’s casket in the hearse on the street below. The People was taken when I was making remarks from the chancel at Riverside during my father’s funeral and asked the congregation to sit up straight and smile so I could take a picture of them.” She explains.

   Photo: Special Thanks to Amsterdam News

The actual funeral was a very public event with people in line, and Oprah [Winfrey] and Mayor [David] Dinkins and Danny Glover and all of those folks,” Muhammad said. “We were walking down a stairwell and I saw the glimpse of this public component of what we were experiencing privately, and its finality really struck me, you know?”

FINAL DAYS is a collection of some of the photographs taken during the celebrations of life after the deaths of my parents, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. This collection also includes photographs from the final days of my cousins, Donald L. Miller and Karen Fletcher; my father-friend, Dr. Beny Primm; and my friend, Sara Myers. FINAL DAYS captures some of the personal, ceremonial, and farewell rituals that they wanted for themselves and that we wanted for them.

Please read other media on the must-see memoir and collection…








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