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Cicely Tyson, a legend who portrayed African Americans with dignity and strength, dies at 96

By Lauren Victoria Burke
NNPA Contributor

Actress and model Cicely Tyson, a legend of the stage and screen whose roles showcased the lives of famous African American women died on January 28 in New York at 96. Tyson was a much respected and revered artist. Her acting was replete with authenticity and her portrayals won her many dedicated admirers. She was also famously married to another legend, Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis from 1981 to 1988.

Tyson iconicly portrayed Kunta Kinte’s mother in the epic television mini-series “Roots” in 1977. She played Coretta Scott King in the 1978 NBC mini-series “King.” She also portrayed Harriet Tubman, in “A Woman Called Moses” (1978) and in 1994, she won an Emmy for her portrayal of Castalia in the mini-series, “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” Her roles spanned decades and include theater, television and feature films.

Cicely Tyson, pictured with Wintley Phipps (left) and Larenz Tate (right). (PHOTO: Dream In Color Photography / NNPA)

Tyson stressed the importance of portraying the lives of African Americans with dignity — regardless of whether the character was rich or poor.

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Tyson recently finished her memoir which was promoting at the time of her death. Her new book is called “Just as I Am.” The autobiography spans over seven decades of Tyson’s career and life experiences. Praise for a life well lived flooded in for Tyson.

“In her extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson was one of the rare award-winning actors whose work on the screen was surpassed only by what she was able to accomplish off of it. She had a heart unlike any other—and for 96 years, she left a mark on the world that few will ever match,” wrote President Barack Obama after hearing the news of Tyson’s death.

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“So saddened to hear my friend #CicelyTyson has passed-one of the most profound, talented and celebrated actors in the industry. She was a serious actor, beautiful & spiritual woman who had unlocked the key to longevity in the way she lived her life. Forever all my love and respect,” wrote Congresswoman Maxine Waters on the actress.

“My heart is truly broken. Yesterday, we lost not only an iconic award-winning actress who distinguished herself in theater, film and television, but a true pillar of African American culture,” said Melanie Campbell, President of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

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Her death was announced by her longtime manager, Larry Thompson. At the time of this writing, funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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