A Pioneer, Leading Actress & True Role Model – Cicely Tyson Remembered

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Cicely Tyson who became the first African American woman to receive an honorary Oscar in 2018 has died age 96, her manager has said. A legend in her own right, who paved the way for so many black women in television, Film and Fashion released her memoire ‘Just As I Am’ on Tuesday, just two days before her passing. A cause of death has not been released by her manager or family, but our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with her family.

Cicely Tyson’s manager Larry Thompson wrote in a statement “I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” the statement read. “Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life. Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree.”

A Pioneer in her field and well known for portraying strong African-American characters in film, theatre and television; Cicely has left behind a legacy spanning over seven decades. The former fashion model and actress was known for only accepting roles that portrayed black women that were realistic, strong and positive whilst turning down roles that portrayed black women in a stereotypical viewpoint.

After being discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine Cicely Tyson’s modelling career took off. By 1957, she was acting in off-Broadway productions and went on to gain small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in 1968.

Cicely’s accolades included becoming the first black woman to accept a role in East Side/West Side; a Television drama series in the 1960s. She has been the recipient of two Emmy awards for her performance in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a 1974 civil rights-era film. That was not all she was recognised for; In her seven decade career Cicely has received a Tony award, a Peabody Award, three Primetime Emmy Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, four Black Reel Awards, and the aforementioned honorary Academy Award.

Several other honours were bestowed upon Cicely Tyson, amongst which included, being inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977, the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2018, and the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 2020. She received several honorary degrees from Morehouse College, Columbia University, Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University and Howard University.

In 1980, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. In 1982, Cicely was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award. The award is given to outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. In 1988, Tyson received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. In 1997, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 2005, Cicely Tyson was honored at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball. She was also honored by the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and the National Council of Negro Women.

The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was named after her in 2009.

She was awarded the NAACP’s 2010 Spingarn Medal for her contribution to the entertainment industry, her modeling career, and her support of civil rights.

Cicely was a recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honours in 2015. She was awarded the United States’ highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama in November 2016.

In a recent interview with The New York times Cicely stated the following “I’m not scared of death. I don’t know what it is. How could I be afraid of something I don’t know anything about?” she asked. “People say it is this and it is that. But they don’t know. They’ve not been there. I’ve not been there. I’m not in a hurry to go either! I take it a day at a time.”

A legendary black woman, whose lifetime of achievements cannot be summed up in this one article. She has transcended through several generations, whilst carrying a torch that has broken boundaries with a major influence on the lives of many people within the black and African American community. A pioneer, who chose to be who she is and stood for what was right without taking the easy route just to stay relevant, but instead chose to maintain a life and career of relevance in order to uphold the importance of who we are as black people.

Rest in eternal peace Cicely Tyson; forever an icon.

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