Johnnetta Betsch Cole, National Chair & 7th President, of the National Council of Negro Women pays tribute to Cicely Tyson with these words:
There is a special place in my heart for Ms. Cecily Tyson, and she was often on my mind. Now, with people all over our country and our world, I mourn her passing. I was privileged to know Ms. Cecily Tyson as a sister-friend, and yet, I could never address her as “Cecily.” The way she carried herself, the manner in which she spoke, her electrifying portrayals of Black women, and her activism in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights called forth one’s respect and admiration.
Who was Ms. Cecily Tyson? Here is how she described herself in words that appear on the dust jacket of her recently released memoir.
JUST AS I AM is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and the garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cecily, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and a mother, a sister and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, A child of God divinely guided by his Hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.
In 2016, The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) presented Ms. Tyson with the Crystal Stair Award in recognition of her lifetime devotion to freedom and the pursuit of excellence. NCNW’s iconic leader, Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, said that the recipient of this award must be an individual who has “the ability to extend far above and beyond oneself to achieve greatness.”
Ms. Tyson refused to be cast in roles that were demeaning to Black Women. Thus, her roles in films, TV movies and on Broadway portrayed the dignity and the resilience of Black women, our ability to “make do when don’t wants to prevail.” The very way that Ms. Tyson carried herself on and off the stage was full of grace. She had gravitas!
We remember Ms. Tyson’s role as Kunta Kinte’s mother in Roots. Her portrayal as Miss Jane Pitman earned her two Emmy awards. When she was 89, she won a Tony award for her performance as a spirited widow in The Trip to Bountiful. For her role in Sounder, she was nominated for an Oscar. President Barack Obama awarded Ms. Cecily Tyson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor. May the soul of Ms. Cecily Tyson rest ever so peacefully.