I find it profoundly mysterious that two days after beloved, award-winning actress and my Delta sorority sister Cicely Tyson released the lone book that she penned about her life and life’s work, the Lord took her from the earthly realm to the heavenly realm. It was as if to say now that her life and life’s work were chronicled in her memoir Just As I Am (the title taken from the heralded hymn that inspired her as a teenager), there was nothing left to be or to do. She was blessed to live 96 years and had the strength to work up until the very end as she was promoting her memoir in various interviews. While many of us were likely familiar with much of her work from Roots to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman to various Tyler Perry movies to How to Get Away With Murder to most recently Cherish the Day (and this is just a sampling of her work), I, for one, was not aware of her Christian faith that sustained her throughout her life. But her pastor Rev. Calvin Butts III of the well-known Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, where her public viewing will be held on on Monday, Feb. 15 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) was keenly aware of her Christian faith. Below are a few excerpts from Cicely Tyson’s Pastor Remembers her Faith as Family Announces Public Viewing by Leonardo Blair of The Christian Post.
“She had a place in our church where she would sit. She bought that pew in memory of her mother. We don’t sell pews so that people can sit in them, but she donated to our church and she asked that when she was here if she could sit there, and of course, we agreed.
“But she would come to church often and you wouldn’t even know she was here. She would not be spectacular as she can be, she would just sit in the back and worship God. She was here every Sunday when she could be when she wasn’t working, traveling. She was a good member,” he said. “I believe she is enjoying the peace of Heaven. Cicely Tyson will be missed. Our hearts are broken and we are saddened, but she lived a triumphant life. She was God’s gift to us.”
Additionally, she spoke on Women’s Day on March 11, 2018 at Abyssinian Baptist Church about growing up in church, where her family attended “Sunday morning till Saturday night.”
“We attended church like Sunday, I played the organ, I taught Sunday school, I had evening service. Monday we had young people’s meeting, Tuesday, old people’s meeting,” she said to another burst of laughter.
“Wednesday, we gathered together to try to introduce young children to the way of God. Thursday, we had club meeting. Friday, I sang and rehearsed in the choir and Saturday, we cleaned the church. I decided at one point that if I ever lived to become a woman I would never enter the portals of church again. And here I am standing in the pulpit of one of the biggest churches in the world,” she said to applause.
To read the entire article, click HERE.
Additionally, below is a link to watch Cicely Tyson’s Barnes & Noble interview with Tyler Perry, who had a mother and son relationship:
Here are a few key moments from the interview:
- Tyler Perry asked Tyson when she was going to write her memoir for years. And for years, she would reply, “When I have something to say.” See 5:33 of the video.
- How her breakthrough role as Rebeccca in “Sounder” led to the arresting cover image on her memoir. While doing promotional work for the movie in London, she was photographed by Lord Snowden, who asked if she would allow him to take pictures of her for his collection. The photograph, which she didn’t see at the time, was sent to Arthur Mitchell, a ballet dancer and her close friend, as a gift from Snowden to Mitchell. When Mitchell passed, the photograph which was hung above his headboard for years, was given to Tyson. She was “stunned” as she had not seen it before. When she saw it, she said, “That will be the cover of my book.” See 6:58 of the video.
- When she was 31 years old and in an acting class, she was sexually assaulted by the teacher Paul Mann! “He grabbed me by my hair and pulled me down, and we fought like cats and dogs. I was finally able to free myself from him, and he was left with a handful of my hair in his hand.” See 11:00 of the video.
And as a 47-year-old woman, the fact that she didn’t get her proverbial “big break” until she was 48 years old was inspiring. See an excerpt of this Washington Post article Cicely Tyson, Actress who Gave Electrifying Portrayals of Resilient Black Women, dies at 96 by Adam Bernstein.
Ms. Tyson was a struggling actress at 48, when her fortunes turned seemingly overnight when she won a leading role in “Sounder.” She played a dirt-poor but proud woman trying to raise her son while her husband (Paul Winfield) is jailed for stealing meat to feed his family. Movie critic Roger Ebert called “Sounder” “simply told and universally moving” and singled out Ms. Tyson’s work for its nuance. “It is a wonder to see the subtleties in her performance,” Ebert wrote. “We have seen her with her family, and we know her strength and intelligence. Then we see her dealing with the white power structure, and her behavior toward it is in a style born of cynicism and necessity. She will say what they want to hear in order to get what she wants to get.” See the rest of the article HERE.
The world will certainly miss Cicely Tyson. But to be absent from this world is to be present with God.
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