Legendary Actress Cicely Tyson Passes Away at 96

This one hit us hard.

Just yesterday, we all received the devastating news that the legendary actress Cicely Tyson passed at the age of 96. Luckily, Hollywood and Black culture has been able to give her the flowers she rightfully deserved for breaking glass ceilings as an undeniably talented actress that always seemed to grace our screens with the stories she told and the roles she played throughout her 70-plus-year career.

For those much younger, you didn’t know the lovely Miss Tyson like the OGs did. She was truly a groundbreaking, glass shattering, and iconic presence on the stage, screen, and in magazines. With that being said, here’s a timeline of the late Tyson’s most memorable, inspiring, and trailblazing contributions that will leave a lasting legacy for Black culture.

*As a child, Tyson graced everyone with her performances on the piano in her family’s church in Harlem, New York.

*After attending New York University, she was able to launch her entertainment career as a model for Ebony magazine in the 1950s which soon led her to be featured on Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

*Towards the 70s, Tyson received two Emmys for Actress of the Year – Special and Best Lead Actress in a Drama for her legendary performance in the film, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She played a 110-year old woman that was born into slavery but participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Pittman and the movie Sounder, which earner her an Oscar nod, were just the beginning of her rich acting career.

*She was then cast as Binta, Kunta Kinte’s mother in the famous TV mini-series, “Roots” in 1977.

*In 1997, Tyson finally received a well-earned and deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

*Fast forward to 2005 when she started working with Tyler Perry in his film Diary of a Mad Black Woman and later Madea’s Family Reunion where we were blessed by Tyson’s performance as a matriarch finding the strength to keep her family together. Tyson also co-starred in Perry’s Netflix movie Fall from Grace.

*In 2011, we watched, laughed, and cried as we admired Tyson play her role in The Help as Constantine alongside Octavia Butler and Viola Davis—two Academy Award winning actresses that Tyson made “feel loved and seen and valued in a world where there is still a cloak of invisibility…” 

*Three years later, Tyson stared in Shonda Rhimes’ TV thriller, “How To Get Away With Murder” where she charmed us with her brilliance in her recurring role as the mother of Annaleise “Anna-Mae” Keating.

*In 2016, Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the first Black President, Barack Obama. This was something that wasn’t even fathomable to Tyson who has seen it all, from the roaring twenties to the Civil Rights Movements in the 60s.

Over her 70-plus-year career, the lovely Tyson has showcased her poise, talent, acting range, activism, Black excellence, and dedication. She paved the way for aspiring Black actresses that could only dream to be half of the cultural icon and legend that Tyson became. For that we are extremely grateful for the wisdom, inspiration, dreams, hope, laughs, and tears that her career has given us.

Time Magazine

Rest in power, Miss Cicely Tyson. Your graceful and electrifying presence in American film and Black culture will truly be missed!


By Jada Daniel, Sophomore, Beloit College

Twitter: @tgijadaaaa

Written by Jada Daniel

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