Today memorable and respected actress Cicely Tyson has passed away at age 96, though the cause of death has not yet been released. This news arrives on the heels of the release of her memoir, Just As I Am, which released earlier this week, which chronicles her many accomplishments. She is known in the film and TV world for portraying powerful, influential black women and has made a lasting mark in the history of black media.
When she entered the industry, the roles for black women were limited to shallow, often stereotypical roles. She refused to take any work that did not come with “strength, pride and dignity,” and chose quality over quantity. She was nominated for an Oscar for her work in Sounder (1972), where she gave a powerful performance as a sharecropper’s wife, and garnered much acclaim after starring in TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). Recently she was seen in The Help (2011) and How to Get Away With Murder.
She has portrayed powerful women in history including Harriet Tubman, Coretta Scott King, educator Marva Collins, and more, bringing nuance and respect to each role. In total she won three Emmys and a Tony for her work.
The award for which she was most proud though came from President Obama in 2016, when he awarded her the Medal of Freedom. Obama said about her legacy, “In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only exceeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history.”