We learned of the passing of Cicely Tyson January 28, 2020. It's odd how the news of the death of a person we've never met can affect us. We feel the sadness, emptiness and loss of them no longer sharing our space on this earth. I guess maybe because their presence on earth was so powerful and so meaningful. The loss of them is mourned by many. The many that felt and witnessed their power. The many affected and or changed by their life's purpose. When they pass away, it leaves us with a vacancy. We feel we will never be able to be gifted with their talents and their words ever again. That's how the death of a legend affects the world. That's how many of us feel hearing about the passing of the legendary and iconic Cicely Tyson.
Cicely Tyson was born in East Harlem on December 19, 1924, to Caribbean parents. Her career began as a fashion model. She then moved on to become an actor of stage, television and film. Unfortunately, I've never witnessed a stage performance from Ms Tyson. I grew up watching her portrayal of strong black female characters of historical importance on the television. She played historical fictional character Miss Jane Pittman in the movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Miss Pittman recounts the events she witnessed during her life from slavery to the civil rights movement. We watched as Ms Tyson played the character from a young girl to a 110-year-old woman. The 110-year-old Miss Pittman that took that long walk down a sidewalk. Each footstep displayed the difficulty and determination of a woman of 110. Each footstep a step closer to the water fountain with a sign above reading "White Only." When she reached the fountain, she paused and then leaned over to have a drink of water. So powerful! This unforgettable performance and scene demonstrated the range, strength and talent of Ms Tyson. It remains to be one of the most memorable performances with historical reference and importance.
Ms Tyson continued to tell the story playing Binta Kinte in the historical drama Roots written by Alex Haley. Binta Kinte, mother of Kunta Kinte, a man who wanted nothing more than to be free. She portrayed Harriet Ross Tubman in A Woman Called Moses. The story of another strong historical black female that helped slaves escape for freedom using the underground railroad. After playing characters who told the stories of slavery, being free and the movement towards civil rights, only befitting she would go on to play the wife of Dr Martin Luther King. In King, Ms Tyson played Coretta Scott King and portrayed Mrs King's role during the Civil Rights Movement. Cicely Tyson's contributions to telling the stories of historically fictional and real-life powerful black females will be celebrated and remembered.
But serious parts were only one layer of the multifaceted talent of Cicely Tyson. She played in many other movies ranging from comedies to even a horror movie. She also lent her voice to a couple of documentaries. But no matter the genre Cicely Tyson always gave us a performance with elegance and class. She once said she wouldn't take on a role which demeaned black people. Because of her dedication and commitment, she leaves us with a compilation of works which stands the test of time. We have a body of work which exudes pride and dignity. We have a woman that gave little black children an icon to look up to and emulate.
It's hard to believe she was born in 1924. The one thing about Ms Tyson I always admired was how ageless she appeared. She had an effervescence that made her glow. She had a spirit and energy that captured you through pictures and television screens. Her beauty was undeniable. Her style and elegance were beyond reproach. But the most inherent quality of Ms Tyson was her strength. Her strength led a life of passion for fighting for what is right and for equality. That strength came through the many strong black female characters she portrayed during a career spanning over 70 years. She carried herself with style and grace. Never, and I mean never, would you see Ms Tyson not looking every bit of fabulous. Snatched to the gods from head to toe. Not only one of the best actors of our time but also very much the fashionista.
I read an article headline yesterday which read "she broke all stereotypes." I guess that's true if you are someone that believes in stereotypes. I have always found the word stereotype a hard word to understand in its delivery. When Ms Tyson became an actor there were only limited roles for black people. Many of those roles did play into societies "stereotypes" of how it viewed all black people and black life. Movie and television roles which perpetuated black life in the eyes of the world's audience. But I guess she did break the stereotypes by refusing to play the demeaning roles which portrayed blacks in a way the world perceived as "black life." Instead, she portrayed characters that told the story of black people. She played characters that defied stereotypes of what the world thought. Ms Tyson brought to the screen characters and real people. Real-life stories of people like Marva Collins who dedicated her life to the education of children in impoverished communities. Her body of work telling the stories of people and with some laughs along the way.
She is said to be a trailblazer. And who would argue this fact. She proved you can be a strong woman and set your own bar and set it up high. You do not let others reduce you by lowering your standards. You demand what you want. Strong. Powerful. Regal. Cicely Tyson. Your life and light will continue to shine.