To say Cicely Tyson broke down barriers would be an understatement. She was a force responsible for making sure generations of people rejected the limitations society tries to place on them. That was especially true for Black women in Hollywood. Tyson, with her graceful, powerful artistry, moved mountains to make sure Black women were seen and felt.
“I was determined to do all I could to alter the narrative about Black people — to change the way Black women in particular were perceived, by reflecting our dignity,” she wrote in her memoir, which came out just three days before she died on Jan. 28 at age 96. With this mission, there isn’t a life she left untouched. Tyson delivered groundbreaking performances, paving the way for Black actors of today and tomorrow, and made sure her activism was woven into her acting. Because she spent her life giving to this world, we are able to progress closer to equity in Hollywood and beyond.
HuffPost asked several of today’s Black leading ladies to define what Tyson’s legacy means to them. They were eager to lift her name. From Lynn Whitfield, a Hollywood veteran and dear friend of Tyson’s; to Xosha Roquemore, a millennial actor who recently co-starred with Tyson in “Cherish The Day;” to Dominique Fishback, who tattooed Tyson’s words onto her body, they showed deep reverence. They understand that without Tyson, the ground that they stand on would be a lot less solid.
Tracee Ellis Ross: “When speaking of or remembering Cicely Tyson, legacy is not enough to convey the breadth and scope of what she shared with us, what she leaves behind. Her groundbreaking career was anchored in a higher calling. Her spirit was both gentle and bold. Her choices were purposeful and honest. With a career full of ‘first,’ she forged a path for those to come after her (including me). As the first Black woman to wear her hair naturally on a television show, she said, ‘I wanted to alter the narrative about how Black people, and Black women particularly, were perceived by reflecting their dignity.’ She spent her entire career uplifting our beauty and humanity. I am forever grateful for her grace and for the way she answered her calling.”
Lynn Whitfield: “Her work was exquisite. Her art was exquisite. Detailed. Textured. Authentic. And beyond that, as a woman, as a human, she should be known for her wisdom, her vulnerability and her humor. Her complexity and her activism. Cicely walked as a soulful queen through it all, teaching us that royalty need not be unapproachable, but available, hardworking and joyful. By example, she led. Without the inspiration of Cicely Tyson being who she was, I would not be who I am.”
Lorraine Toussaint: “Watching Cicely on stage doing ‘The Trip To Bountiful’ was one of the greatest acting lessons I have ever received. Then in her late 80s, Ms. Tyson went up on her lines and had to stop and regroup. Her grace, her authenticity, her willingness to fully allow us into her masterful process was thrilling. After she reentered from the wings, Cicely picked us up mid-emotion, and effortlessly and deftly continued the scene. We jumped to our feet in a glorious standing ovation at the intermission break. She was magnificent. She was an actor’s actor. Thank you Ms. Tyson. Safe travels.”
Regina King: “Ms. Tyson’s legacy has left an indelible mark. She always kept her head high and imparted wisdom every time she had the mic. Her grace, choices and everything she stood for was like a lighthouse pointing me in the right direction whenever I was unsure where to go.”
Gabrielle Union: “Cicely Tyson’s legacy is a blueprint for Black artists to cultivate, nurture and enjoy their craft while simultaneously centering Blackness unapologetically. She led from the front. She talked the talk and walked the walk for our people and her silence and submission were not required ingredients necessary for her tremendous success.”
Taraji P. Henson: “Cicely Tyson was always my guideline for greatness and a blueprint to creating my own legacy to leave behind. She fought many battles that allowed me the audacity to not just dream but make those very dreams come to fruition. She fought so we could continue the fight, making it easier for the next brown girl to dream of her own legacy. Queen Cicely Tyson. So grateful to have witnessed all of your GREATNESS. Rest in God’s loving arms 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾”