Cicely Tyson: 1924 – 2021

Cicely Tyson was just on my mind a few short days ago.

I was thinking about how she was in her 90s now and how great she looked at her age. Plus, I watched a video a week ago about Tyler Perry’s shortcomings in film making, and it featured a hilarious tweet that read, “Things you can find in most Tyler Perry movies that I expect in #AFallFromGrace: An aerial shot of Atlanta, a fine man in a bad wig, Cicely Tyson, a gospel choir, a dark skinned villain, [and] a black woman suffering” (I was unable to find and upload the actual tweet). And yes, Ms. Tyson was indeed in the film, and killed her role (although the rest of the movie was…something).

Sometime after that reflection, I learned on Twitter that Ms. Tyson passed away at the age of 96.

Cicely Tyson had a career that spanned over 50 years, and she was a prominent figure in the Black community. She was certainly a perpetual celebrity throughout my life, and much like Burt Reynolds, Alex Trebek, and Sean Connery, I can’t remember the first time I saw or heard about her. I only recall her constant appearances in movies and TV shows.

She starred in so many films I watched coming up: The Autobiography of Ms. Jane Pittman, Roots, Hoodlum (she was so glamorous as Stephanie St. Clair aka Madame Queen), Fried Green Tomatoes, The Help, Mama Flora’s Family, etc. In later years, Ms. Tyson appeared in nearly every Tyler Perry flick (one of the reasons that tweet was funny was because it was true, no disrespect to either Ms. Tyson or Mr. Perry intended), and I always enjoyed her performances.

I never forgot this scene.

After Ms. Tyson’s death, I learned she refused to take any roles that would show black women in a demeaning light. No prostitutes, no drug addicts, etc. She also helped to revolutionize the natural hair movement before it was popular. Go ‘head, Ms. Cicely! ✊🏾✊🏽✊🏿 πŸ‘©πŸ½β€πŸ¦±πŸ‘©πŸΎβ€πŸ¦±πŸ‘©πŸΏβ€πŸ¦±

Cicely and her future husband, Miles Davis, circa 1968. Courtesy of CNN.

I’ve also learned that Ms. Tyson worked in theatre, and near the end of her life she received a Tony Award for The Trip to Bountiful. She’s also won Emmys as well as an honorary Oscar.

I’ll never forget watching her on The Arsenio Hall Show as a child, listening to her talk about how her sixth sense alerted her to the fact that her dear friend, Sammy Davis Jr., was dying. Soon after she had that prediction, he passed from cancer. Ms. Tyson went on to tell Arsenio that she believed everyone had ESP, only some folks had a stronger sense than others. Charlamange Tha God wondered if Ms. Tyson’s sixth sense forewarned her that she didn’t have long on this Earth, and she released her memoir mere months before she passed. I question if my sixth sense kicked in when she entered my mind days before she left us.

Props to all the ladies in this scene. As powerful as it though, Ms. Tyson’s final line is what really brings it home, and it sums up how she herself left us. “A lady always knows when to leave.”

Ms. Cicely always kept it classy and never failed to do us proud. She was a trailblazer for so many black actresses that followed her a role model for all African-American women like myself. At 96, she lived a life that was full and stayed active until the very end. She’ll definitely be missed.

I never knew that Ms. Tyson was Lenny’s godmother.

Rest in power, Ms. Tyson.

Cicely Tyson: December 19, 1924 – January 28, 2021

—Written by Nadiya

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