Cicely Tyson - Civil Rights - 3 Part Assignment

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Cicely Tyson.

Barnes, Joyce A.

Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2020. 2p.

Biography

Tyson, Cicely, 1933-

African American models

African American actresses

Actress. Cicely L. Tyson was born in Harlem, New York, to a family struggling for economic survival.

Her parents, William and Theodosia Tyson, had immigrated to the United States from Nevis, a small

Caribbean island. William was a carpenter and sold fruit from a pushcart. Theodosia worked as a

domestic servant. Tyson, the youngest of three siblings, sold shopping bags on the streets. Even so,

the family needed government assistance to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

They moved frequently from one Harlem tenement to another, and Tyson’s parents’ divorce

introduced more instability into her childhood. Tyson found solace in the church, although she

resented the restrictions placed on her by her deeply religious mother. She was not allowed to

socialize outside church or date until she was seventeen. Tyson, Cicely [c]Fashion Tyson, Cicely

[c]Film: Acting Tyson, Cicely

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89409292

Research Starters

Cicely Tyson

Actress

Born: December 19, 1933

Birthplace: Harlem, New York

Actor and activist

Tyson is an award-winning actor and advocate for educational, civic, and humanitarian causes. Her commitment to portraying positive

African American characters resulted in many memorable performances.

Areas of achievement: Fashion; Film: acting; Social issues

Early Life

Cicely L. Tyson was born in Harlem, New York, to a family struggling for economic survival. Her parents, William and Theodosia Tyson, had

immigrated to the United States from Nevis, a small Caribbean island. William was a carpenter and sold fruit from a pushcart. Theodosia

worked as a domestic servant. Tyson, the youngest of three siblings, sold shopping bags on the streets. Even so, the family needed

government assistance to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. They moved frequently from one Harlem tenement to

another, and Tyson’s parents’ divorce introduced more instability into her childhood. Tyson found solace in the church, although she

resented the restrictions placed on her by her deeply religious mother. She was not allowed to socialize outside church or date until she

was seventeen.

Backstage at The Heart Truth's

Red Dress Collection Fashion

Show during New York Fashion

Week. February 13, 2009 at

Bryant Park. By The Heart Truth

[Public domain], via Wikimedia

Commons

Cicely Tyson at the 2012 Time

100 gala. By David Shankbone

(Own work) [CC BY 3.0

(http://creativecommons.org/licens

via Wikimedia Commons

Tyson grew up restless and curious, and she found ways to break through her physical and emotional boundaries. While in high school,

she would ride the bus across the city and contemplate a better future. Working as a typist for the Red Cross after graduation, she declared

that she would not spend her life “banging on a typewriter.” Although she was unsure of what she wanted to do, Tyson felt destined for a life

more significant than the one she was living.

The opportunity for that different life came when Tyson modeled in a hair show. Her striking features, high cheekbones, small frame, and

ebony skin drew notice, and she was encouraged to pursue fashion modeling. She became one of the top ten African American models in

the country. However, she grew tired of being seen simply as a pretty face in designer clothes. Encouraged by Freda DeKnight, an editor at

Ebony, Tyson auditioned for a role in an independent film, Caribe Gold. The film was never completed, but the experience introduced her to

the thrill of acting. Despite her mother’s strong objections, Tyson enrolled in classes at the Actors Studio. She had to leave home, but she

began making money and drawing praise as an actor.

Life’s Work

Tyson garnered favorable reviews for her first stage role in Dark of the Moon (1958–59), but it was in Jean Genet’s The Blacks (1961) that

Tyson became a nationally recognized artist. Her comedic performance as a prostitute named Virtue earned Tyson her first Drama Desk

Award.

In her first major film role, in Carson McCullers’sThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968), and on television, Tyson wore her hair in a short Afro.

She drew criticism from some, black and white, for her “natural” hair and dark skin and for not conforming to the image of a middle-class

African American woman. Others, however, considered her looks revolutionary; she was the embodiment of the Black Is Beautiful

movement. In 1963, she became the first female African American actor to appear regularly in a dramatic series, in the acclaimed East

Side, West Side. More television appearances in programs as diverse as the Western Gunsmoke and the soap opera The Guiding Light

followed. Her film roles, however, were few during the 1960s and 1970s because she refused to play the hypersexual characters of the

blaxploitation era. Tyson insisted on roles that cast black women in a positive light, and her career is distinguished by her portrayals of

multidimensional characters who do not fit into any popular stereotype.

One of Tyson’s most notable film roles was in Sounder (1972) as a defiant, smart, and deeply loving woman. Reviewers hailed the

character, Rebecca Morgan, as the first black heroine of film. Tyson received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. In 1974, she won more

plaudits for her starring role in the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman as a fictional 110-year-old woman whose life

encompasses slavery and the Civil Rights era. Other female heroine roles followed: Tyson played Kunta Kinte’s mother Binta in the historic

television miniseries Roots (1977); Coretta Scott King in King (1978); Harriet Tubman in A Woman Called Moses (1978), for which she was

also a producer; and educator Marva Collins in The Marva Collins Story (1981). Having established herself as a dramatic actor, Tyson also

triumphed in comedic roles, such as Bustin’ Loose with Richard Pryor (1981), and in three films by writer-producer-actor Tyler Perry: Diary

of a Mad Black Woman (2005), Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), and Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010). The following year she appeared

as the character Constantine Bates in the film adaptation of Katheryn Stockett's The Help for which she was nominated for several

ensemble awards. She appeared as Nana Mama in Alex Cross and as Mamma Kay in the 2013 film The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts

of Georgia.

With hundreds of performances to her credit, Tyson also is recognized as an energetic advocate for education, women’s rights, and human

rights. Well into her sixties and seventies, she traveled to schools and colleges across the country to educate students about history and

race. She served as a world ambassador for United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and an advocate for Save the Children, and in

2005, she traveled to Phuket, Thailand, to help rebuild schools after the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. A vegetarian who

observes a strict regimen of diet and exercise, she also has lectured about health issues.

Tyson has received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, numerous Image Awards from the National Association for the Advancement of

Colored People (NAACP), and many honorary degrees. In 2015 she received a Kennedy Center Honor for her contributions to American

culture. She is the namesake of the Cicely L. Tyson Community School for the Performing and Fine Arts, in East Orange, New Jersey. The

school provides prekindergarten through high school education for future writers, musicians, dancers, and actors.

Significance

Over her six-decade career, Tyson has made hundreds of appearances on film, on television, and on stage. She also has contributed to

humanitarian efforts worldwide. While she suffered setbacks in her personal life, including a brief marriage to jazz great Miles Davis, Tyson

won acclaim for her insistence on portraying positive images of African American women.

Bibliography

Bogle, Donald. Brown Sugar: Over One Hundred Years of America’s Black Female Superstars. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.

"Cicely Tyson Looks Back at Acting Career, Life." CBS News. CBS Interactive, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Hornaday, Ann. "Cicely Tyson: A Pioneer Stretches Her Acting Muscles in a New Career Chapter." Washington Post. Washington Post, 5

Dec. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Mapp, Edward. “1972 Cicely Tyson.” In African Americans and the Oscar: Seven Decades of Struggle and Achievement. Lanham:

Scarecrow, 2003. Print.

Mateo, Lisa. "Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts Turns Students into Stars." PIX11. WPIX, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar.

2016.

Sanders, Charles L. “Cicely Tyson: She Can Smile Again After a Three-Year Ordeal.” Ebony 34.3 (Jan. 1979): 27–36. Print.

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Source: Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2020, 2p

Item: 89409292