On February 15, people from around the world traveled to pay respects to Cicely Tyson. The New-York-born actor, Honorary Oscar winner, five-time Emmy winner, and Medal of Freedom winner died on January 28 at 96.
Cicely Tyson was an award-winning film, television and stage actress, notable for her roles in Sounder, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The Help, and How to Get Away with Murder.
Cicely Tyson was born in Harlem. Her father was a carpenter and a painter from the Caribbean, and her mother was a housekeeper also from the Caribbean. In 2005, Tyson told NPR that their family was deeply religious.
"We did everything in the church," said Cicely, "I played the organ. I played the piano. I taught Sunday school. I sang in the choir. And then on Monday, we had prayer meeting, and Tuesday, we had young people's meeting. Wednesday, we had old people's meeting. Saturday, we cleaned the church and Sunday, we were right back in the church. My entire social life was in and about the church. And so that is the basis of my foundation."
Tyson was very beautiful, and started modeling in high school. When she got her first acting job, her mother felt that Tyson was choosing a path of sin and kicked her out of their home. She soon started to appear in movies.
Tyson got married to jazz legend Miles Davis in 1981, but they divorced seven years later in 1988. They had no children, but they two co-founded the Dance Theater of Harlem after MLK's assassination.
In the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, Tyson performed in shows with all-black casts, alongside artists such as Maya Angelou and James Earl Jones.
Tyson was the first Black woman to have a recurring role in a TV drama series, which was the 1963 drama East Side, West Side.
Her performance as a sharecropper’s wife in the 1972 movie Sounder cemented her legacy and earned her an Oscar nomination.
She won two Emmy Awards for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 television drama The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and another Emmy 20 years later for Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. In 2013, at age 88, Tyson won a Tony Award for The Trip to Bountiful.
In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 2019, Tyson was the first Black woman to receive an Honorary Oscar.
She would go on to appear on the small screen on popular drama series as Law & Order: SVU, House of Cards and Madam Secretary. In 2020, she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
She became a member of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977. She was also honored by the Congress of Racial Equality and by the National Council of Negro Women. And in 2010, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People presented Tyson with its 95th Spingarn Medal.
Tyson published her final memoir, Just As I Am, just two days before her death on January 28. She was 96.
The National Women's History Alliance has declared the whole month of March as Women's History Month, beginning Monday, March 1.