On January 28, 2021 we lost one of the most beloved and iconic actresses of our time Ms. Cicely Tyson.
This article is in honor of her legacy. Here is her story.
December 19, 1924 in New York City an icon was born. Raised in Harlem, in the renaissance era Tyson was brought up in a semi artistic home with a painter father whom also worked as a carpenter and her mother worked as a domestic. At 18 years old Tyson started her modeling career. She was discovered by an Ebony Magazine fashion editor, from there she made her way to the top of the modeling industry despite her mothers lack of support and kicking her out of the home. At 18 that wasn’t the only big change in her life, this is also when she gave birth to her daughter she refers to in her memoir Just As I Am as “Joan” as not to give her real name to the public. She had Joan from her first marriage to a man named Kenneth Franklin. In her memoir she wrote that her daughter was “the one who has paid the greatest price for this gift to all”. She left Franklin when their daughter was two years old. The road for Tyson as a mother and model heading into the television and film industry wasn’t an easy one.
Fast forward to 1963 Tyson became the first African American star of a TV series East Side/West Side as Jane Foster. She continued to break barriers. In 1972 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Sonder. Tyson continued to play notable roles in film and television such as Kunta Kinte’s mother in Roots and the title role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman in 1974 which she won two emmy’s for. She was the first African American actress to win an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a TV movie.
Tyson didn’t just stay in the bounds of the screen, in 1983 she went to Broadway as the lead in The Corn is Green. Her third Emmy award she earned in 1994 for playing Castalia in CBS miniseries Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. This was just the beginning. Cicely Tyson never stopped acting although she was particular about the roles she portrayed. In 1997 she got a very well deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. More of the work she is known for include; Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010), The Help (2011), House of Cards (2016), and the most recently; A Fall From Grace (2020) and How to Get Away With Murder (2015-2020).
The impact Cicely Tyson had on Hollywood is a great one and she will always be remember for the opportunities she opened for other actresses and actors after her.