Cicely Tyson Biography

Born on December 19, 1924, in East Harlem, Cicely Tyson was a legendary actress who broke multiple glass ceilings for Black women in Hollywood.

Cicely Tyson

February 8, 2021

Born on December 19, 1924, in East Harlem, Cicely Tyson was a trail-blazing actress who broke multiple glass ceilings for Black women in Hollywood. 

Raised by immigrant parents from West Indes, Tyson grew up in a conservative religious household but knew from a young age that she wanted to be a star. 

Her road to success started in the early 50s when she started modeling for Ebony magazine, but she soon set her sights on acting. After starring in multiple TV shows from 1951-1955, she took the lead in playwright Jene Genet’s show, “the Blacks” starring alongside many prominent cultural figures, including Maya Angelou and James Earl Jones. In 1962 she won the Vernon Rice Award for this performance. 

Tyson’s launch to superstardom, however, didn’t come until 1972, with the movie Sounder for which she was nominated both an Academy Award and Golden Globe. After the success of Sounder, Tyson went on to play the lead in “The autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” a television series about the life of a young Black woman born into slavery. Her performance as Jane Pittman won her two Emmy awards and a BAFTA nomination. 

Through Tyson’s legendary career, she fought for the rights of Black women in entertainment and more positive portrayals of Black people in the media. Refusing to take patronizing roles, Tyson consistently demanded Black characters to be written with dignity, and she often paid the price for it, sometimes going years without roles. Through her persistence and adamance, Tyson paved the way for a more positive portrayal of BIPOC in the mainstream media all while transforming Hollywood with her powerful performances. 

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