Tribute to Louis Gossett, Jr.

We are born with freedom and hope, but often that’s dashed because of our color. But in school, I’d already been taught that no one could tell me that you can’t do something because you’re black.” ~ Louis Gossett, Jr.

On March 29, 2024, Louis Gossett, Jr. passed away at 87 years old. He was an actor, producer, writer, director, and the first Black man to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Drill Sergeant Emil Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. Gossett is known for his countless roles that he performed on stage, for television, and in several Hollywood films. During his long acting career, Gossett also won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Special for In His Father’s Shoes, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television for The Josephine Baker Story, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for Touched by an Angel, and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series for Roots.

Louis Gossett Jr., with the original “Book of Negroes,” at “The Book of Negroes” screening reception at the National Archives. (Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)

Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr. was born on May 27, 1936, in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York to Hellen Rebecca Wray Gossett and Louis Gossett, Sr. He was the student body president of Mark Twain Junior High School and performed in several plays in high school. After graduating, Gossett received a scholarship to play basketball for New York University and was drafted by the New York Knickerbockers, but decided that he would rather act. He studied at The Actors Studio and, in 1959, was cast in his first major Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun.

Gossett’s acting career took off. He performed in numerous films that include the movie version of A Raisin in the Sun, JD’s Revenge, Sadat, Diggstown, and Lackawanna Blues. He also appeared on popular television shows such as The Jeffersons and Good Times, as well as starred in TV miniseries and movies like Return to Lonesome Dove, The Book of Negroes, and Watchmen. In addition to acting, Gossett was a social activist. He mentored young men and boys, joined with James Earl Jones and Paul Sorvino to establish a theater group for at-risk youth, co-created the Shamba Centers to teach Black history, and sponsored anti-violence efforts in Los Angeles.

7/21/1987 President Reagan speaking at a Take Pride in America event with actors Clint Eastwood and Louis Gossett Jr in the Rose Garden (NAID 75855595)

The National Archives and the Presidential Libraries hold textual documents, photographs, moving images, and sound recordings related to Louis Gossett, Jr.’s social activism. Below is a selection of file units and items:

  • RG 70 Take pride in America (NAID 12424)
  • RG 330 Air Force Now 238 (NAID 4524704)
  • RR-WHTV President Ronald Reagan’s Photo Opportunities on July 21-23, 1987 (NAID 77443372)

Related information associated with Louis Gossett, Jr. can be found on the Rediscovering Black History Blog. Below are a few selections:

Leave a Reply