Cicely Tyson (December 19, 1924 – January 28, 2021) broke stereotypes and left a legacy of excellence. An American actress and fashion model whose career spanned more than seven decades, Tyson was known for her portrayal of strong Black women.
Tyson rose from humble beginnings. She was born in East Harlem to immigrant parents from Nevis, in the West Indies. Her parents worked hard to provide for Tyson and her two siblings. After graduating from high school she worked as a secretary for the American Red Cross before becoming a model. At the top of her modeling career she appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
A pioneering Emmy and Tony winning Black actress, she was a woman of unprecedented power and range. Tyson remained true to her convictions, refusing to take parts simply for the paycheck. She always looked for positive portrayals of African-American women. In 1974, she took on one of her most famous characters — the lead in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a TV movie on CBS.
During her 70+ years of excellence, Tyson 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. In November 2016, Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 2020, she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
Tyson was actively supported charities and the arts, including Urban Gateways, the Human Family Institute, and the American Film Institute. Because of her work and dedication, she received awards from the National Council of Negro Women, the NAACP, as well as the Capitol Press Award.
Just As I Am, Tyson’s memoir, was published on January 26, 2021. She was promoting the book during the last weeks of her life, when asked how she wanted to be remembered in an interview with Gayle King, Tyson said, “I’ve done my best. That’s all.”
Tyson died on January 28, 2021, at the age of 96. Today we honor this Beautiful Queen, she will live forever in the bright lights of Hollywood and in our hearts.
“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch – what makes you go beyond the norm.”– Cicely Tyson