By Bradford Mason

Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson was best known for her roles in the films Sounder, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and, more recently, The Help. Tyson died on Thursday, Jan. 28. She was 96.

Born in Harlem in 1924, Tyson began her career as a model after being discovered by an Ebony magazine photographer. She became the first African American to star in a television drama when she starred in the series East Side/West Side in 1963.

Tyson appeared in numerous television shows and movies but it was her role as Rebecca Morgan in the 1972 film Sounder that received widespread acclaim.  The role earned her an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. She received an honorary Academy Award in 2018.

In 1974, Tyson earned two Emmy Awards for her role in the TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. A celebrated stage actress, Tyson earned a Tony Award for her role in The Trip to Bountiful.

In her later years, Tyson appeared in several movies and TV shows produced by Tyler Perry including Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Why Did I Get Married Too? and Madea’s Family Reunion. She also had a recurring role in the ABC prime-time drama How to Get Away with Murder.

On social media, Perry said he learned of Tyson’s death from Oprah Winfrey while he was at his home watching the movie Sounder.

“To think that she lived for 96 years and I got to be a part of the last 16 brings me great joy,” he said. “She called me son. Well, today your son grieves your loss and will miss our long talks, your laughter from your belly, and your very presence. Always so regal, always so classy, always a lady, always a queen.”

Among the numerous honors Tyson received, locally, The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, was named after her in 2009. She visited the school to teach acting classes to students.

“The East Orange School District honors the life and legacy of our beloved, Ms. Cicely Tyson, ground breaking award-winning actress, advocate, and humanitarian,” school district officials said in statement. “Ms. Tyson whose vivid portrayals of strong black women shattered racial stereotypes and opened the door for so many, will forever serve an inspiration for millions throughout the world.”⠀

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