Paving the way for Black women in film, actress Cicely Tyson has left behind an unforgettable legacy in the Black community. Tyson died on Jan. 28 at the age of 96.
She was born Dec. 19, 1924 in Harlem, New York to devoutly religious parents, William and Theodosia Tyson. Despite not being exposed to the world of performing arts, at the age of 18 she quit her entry-level typing job to pursue a career in acting. Tyson was shunned by her overtly religious parents and even kicked out pf their home for choosing a “sinful” path.
Tyson was given her first chance in the industry when she was discovered by a fashion editor working for Ebony magazine. Her beauty was unmatched. In an article published by the Associated Press, Tyson was described as “a striking figure: slender and intense with near-perfect bone structure, magnificent smooth skin, dark penetrating eyes, and a regal air that made her seem a woman of convictions and commitment.”
In a phone interview with Lashonda Woods on the life and legacy of Cicely Tyson she said, “I loved the style and grace she exuded through the roles she played … she lived such a full life and is the perfect testament to what Black people can achieve in America,” said Wood, 44.
In the early 1960s Blacks were finally noticed as a source of beauty and given a chance in film for starring roles. Shattering stereotypes and staying true to what she believed in, Tyson was very selective with the roles she played because she believed that they must always align with her values.
Tyson’s presence in Hollywood illuminated the humanity in Black people. Changing the narrative of what Black people can be. She helped turn Black history into American history, as she was among the first African American to star in a reoccurring TV series known as “East Side/West Side.”
Tyson’s accolades are never ending. In 1972 she won an Academy Award for best actress for her role as a sharecropper’s wife in “Sounder.” Then in 1974 she won two Emmy awards for her roles in “Roots” as Kunta Kinte’s mother and leading role in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”
Many of us today know Cicely Tyson from her more recent roles in movies such as “Medea’s Family Reunion” or the television show “How to Get Away With Murder.”
Interviewing people from different generations to get their take on the impact they believed Cicely Tyson’s legacy has had on the African American community helped me to understand just how long Tyson had been in the film industry and the way in which her roles changed with age.
“I’ve only ever seen her play the role of someone’s wise elder and from that alone when she passed it felt like I lost someone close to me,” said Alyssa Farrell, 23 and a Florida State University student.