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Cicely Tyson

Cicely TysonCicely Tyson, who passed away in 2021 at the age of 96, was a luminous star of the page, stage, and screen who devoted her career to empowering women of color by choosing to portray them in a definitively positive light.  

Tyson’s first job out of high school was as a secretary for the American Red Cross. At the same time she was enrolled in modeling school, and eventually became a top Black model after being discovered by a photographer for Ebony Magazine. One of her first on-screen roles was for an unreleased film (due to funding) called The Spectrum, which focused on tensions between light- and dark-skinned African Americans. In 1959, she performed in off-Broadway shows, including the musical The Dark of the Moon, and in 1961 she was one of the original cast members in the off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s drama The Blacks. Her first major film appearance was in 1966's A Man Called Adam, where she played the love interest of Sammy Davis Jr.  

When blaxploitation films limited the scope of black roles offered to her in the 70’s, she told People magazine in 1974: “The lesser of two evils for me is to wait, rather than do something that isn’t right. Producers know how I feel, and they’re very cautious about sending me things, although I read everything I get. They either make my skin tingle or my stomach churn.  I’m really tired of the assumption that [black people] don’t like nothin’ but sex and violence.”

The actress has received numerous awards and nominations over her decades-spanning career, including a record 12 NAACP Image Awards and 2 Emmies In 1974 for her role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, in which she portrayed a woman born into slavery who lived to see and participate in the 1960s civil rights movement.  She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Peabody Award for Career Achievement, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2016.

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, she released her memoir, Just As I Am, through Harper Books.