There is no better time than February, also known as Black History Month, to take time and remember the great African Americans and events that have helped change our country for the better. More importantly, it is a time to celebrate and recognize the many achievements of the African American Community in their fight for freedom and equal opportunity.
Cicely Tyson, a pioneer for black actors and actresses and an award- winning film, television and stage actress, died on January 28, 2021.
In her career spanning more than seven decades, Tyson knocked down doors so that women of all colors could walk through them.
As one of America’s most respected actresses, Tyson was honored by the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Council of Negro Woman. In addition, Tyson was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama and in 1977 was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
During her lifetime, Tyson also received three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, an Honorary Academy Award and a Peabody Award.
Tyson strategically picked roles that portrayed strong African- American women with an intent to elevate how black actors were perceived. While Tyson built a successful career by carefully choosing roles that exemplified both quality and depth, initially, she did not have steady work in film and television.
In 1963, Tyson became the first African American star of a TV drama in the series East Side/ West Side where she played the secretary Jane Foster. Just 11 years later, Tyson appeared in the television drama, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, adapted from the novel by Ernest J. Gaines. Perhaps best known for this role, her performance as the 110-year old former slave whose life is portrayed up through the civil rights movement of the 1960s won Tyson two Emmy Awards. More recently, Tyson played maid Constantine Bates in The Help and was nominated for an Emmy for her guest-appearance in How to Get Away With Murder.
Just days before her death, Tyson released her memoir, Just As I Am, which has already hit number one on the New York Times bestsellers list. Throughout the 432-page memoir, Tyson speaks about her childhood, marriage and of course her career. She also touches upon the prejudice in Hollywood against African Americans and the racial and gender stereotyping that she endured for decades.
Tyson is just one of the many people who paved the road for women and people of color in Hollywood and one of the many who should be remembered and thanked throughout Black History Month.
If you read Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am, tweet us @VALLEYmag and let us know what you think about it!