“The moment anyone tries to demean or degrade you in any way, you have to know how great you are. Nobody would bother to beat you down if you were not a threat.” ~Cicely Tyson
On January 28, 2021, critically acclaimed actress, model, and activist Cicely Tyson passed away at the age of 96 in Harlem, New York City. Her refusal to play negative depictions of Black women, made Ms. Tyson one of the most impactful and influential actors of our time. Throughout her nearly seventy year career, Ms. Tyson won several awards and received numerous honors. In 1973, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her heartful portrayal of a sharecropper’s wife in Sounder, and in 2018, received the Academy’s Honorary Award. Ms. Tyson won an Emmy Award for Best Lead Actress in a Drama for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)and in 1994, she received the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special Award for the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She also won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a play for The Trip to Bountiful in 2013. In 2020, Ms. Tyson won a Peabody Award and won a Television Hall of Fame Award. She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, received several honorary degrees, and in 2009, the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts was named in her honor. Cicely Tyson’s memoir Just As I Am, was released on January 26, 2021.
Cicely Tyson was born on December 9, 1924, in Harlem, New York. She was the youngest of three children of West Indian immigrants from Nevis. Ms. Tyson was discovered by an Ebony magazine photographer, which launched her career as a fashion model. In 1951, she had a small role in the television show Frontiers of Faith that began her long and successful acting career. She was an inspiration who showcased the natural beauty of Black women and she uplifted the African American community with her selection of positive roles. Ms. Tyson also was a co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Cicely Tyson selected pioneering roles that showed the beauty of African Americans. A select few of her most memorable movie roles included: The River Niger (1976), A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich (1978), Bustin’ Loose (1981), Hoodlum (1997), The Help (2011), and A Fall from Grace (2020). Ms. Tyson shined on the small screen with roles on the Guiding Light, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Emergency!, Roots, A Woman Called Moses, Mama Flora’s Family, A Lesson Before Dying, The Women of Brewster Place, and How to Get Away with Murder. She also left her mark in the theatre with praiseworthy roles in The Blacks: A Clown Show, Trumpets of the Lord, and The Gin Game. In 2016, Cicely Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama for her pioneering work in the film and television industries.