NEW YORK — Actress Cicely Tyson who gained an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper’s wife in “Sounder,” won a Tony Award at age 88 and two Emmys for playing a former slave in the 1974 television drama “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” died last Thursday at 96.
Tyson began her screen career with bit parts but gained fame in the early 1970s.
“She took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human
being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections,” wrote former President Barack Obama, who awarded Tyson the Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Tyson’s parents moved from the island of Nevis in the Caribbean to New York, where she was born , the youngest of three children. When her parents separated, her mother went on welfare. At nine, Cicely sold shopping bags on the streets of East Harlem.
When she graduated from high school, she found work as a secretary at the Red Cross. Her striking looks prompted friends to advise her to take up modeling and that led to
acting schools, theater, movies and television.
“My mother told me I could no longer live in her house because I was determined to be an actress,” she told an interviewer in 1990. “I said `OK,’ and I moved out.”
Tyson’s memoir, “Just As I Am,” was published last week.