Davis was born Raiford Chatman Davis in Cogdell, Georgia (Clinch County). The name Ossie came from a county clerk who misheard his mother’s pronunciation of his initials “R.C.” when he was born. Following the wishes of his parents, he attended Howard University but dropped out in 1939 to pursue his acting career in New York; he later attended Columbia University School of General Studies. His acting career, which spanned seven decades, began in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. He made his film debut in 1950 in the Sidney Poitier film No Way Out.
Davis experienced many of the same struggles that most African American actors of his generation underwent; he wanted to act but he did not want to play stereotypical subservient roles, such as a butler, that was the standard for black actors of his generation. Instead, he tried to follow the example of Sidney Poitier and play more distinguished characters. When he found it necessary to play a Pullman porter or a butler… read more