I feel nostalgic as I think about Sidney Poitier – I remember watching “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner” as a young girl with my dear Dad. I liked him very much – he reminded me of my dad (being a daddy’s girl). And that would be the first of many movies I would watch with my dad starring Poitier.
Sidney Poitier was Eloquent, Charismatic, warm with a smile that made me feel comfortable. At such a young age, I could not articulate what I felt, but I knew I liked him. As I grew older, I remained a fan watching many of his movies repeatedly. He was magnetic, drew me into every scene, and his voice made me feel comfortable like he was close family. He seemed familiar.
Human Being, Artist, Actor, Director, and Author, he broke the color barrier in the United States Motion Picture Industry By becoming the first black movie star and the first African American to win an Academy Award. He won best actor for the film “Lilies of the Field (1963).
Sidney Poitier came into this world prematurely on February 20th, 1927, to Bahamian parents on a visit to Miami Florida, from the Bahamas. And he sadly left on January 6th 2022. He redefined roles for African Americans by rejecting parts that were racial stereotypes.
Raised on Cat Island, Bahamas he returned to the United States as a teenager. And later enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he served in a medical unit. Upon discharge from the army, Poitier applied to The American Negro Theatre (ANT) in NYC. But was refused because of his Bahamian accent. He practiced American pronunciation by listening to the radio, and six months later, he was accepted into ANT when he reapplied. In 1964 he made his Broadway debut in Lysistrata.
He is known by many as a good person and a stellar human being, and as a Hollywood Trailblazer, Mr. Poitier has an impressive resume.
Here is a brief synopsis of his career and words he lived by, and sayings he shared with the world:
- Broadway Debut 1946 “Lysistrata.”
- “No way Out” 1950
- “Cry the Beloved Country” 1951
- A film adaptation, Even Hunter’s novel “The Blackboard Jungle” 1955.
- Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” Broadway 1959 and the film adaptation of the drama in 1961.
- “Edge of the City” 1957.
- “Bands of Angels” 1957.
- “The Defiant Ones” 1958.
- “Porgy and Bess” 1959
- “Lilies of the Field” 1963
- “The Greatest Story ever told” 1965.
- “A Patch of Blue” 1965.
- “Duel at Diablo” 1966.
- “To Sir with Love” 1967.
- “In the Heat of the Night” 1967.
- “They call me Mister Tibbs” 1970
- “The Organization” 1971.
- His debut as a director with “Buck and the Preacher” 1972.
- “A warm December” 1973.
- “Uptown Saturday Night” 1974.
- “Let’s do it again” 1975.
- “A piece of the Action” 1977.
- He directed “Stir Crazy” 1980.
- “Hanky Panky” 1980.
- “Fast forward” 1985.
- “Ghost dad” 1990.
- “Shoot to Kill” + “Little Nikita” 1988.
- “Sneaker” 1992.
- “The Jackal” 1997.
- “Separate but Equal” 1991.
- “Mandela and de Klerk” 1997.
- 2001 his final role “The last Brickmaker.”
“This Life” 1980
“The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” 2000
“Life Beyond Measure: Letters to my Great-Granddaughter” 2008
“Montaro Caine” 2013.
His views on Race:
“Racism is painful, and we have to be clear-eyed about it, not just victims of it. And, on the other side, victims of racism are charged with the responsibility to have as clear an eye as they can to examine what they perceive to be the sources of racism,” the legendary actor told the Vancouver Sun in 2000
“I couldn’t go into certain stores and try on a pair of shoes. I had to travel in the back of a bus, and I had never had to do that before. It was a big disappointment to me,” Poitier said on CNN’s Larry King Live in 2008.
“Before I got to Florida, I had the opportunity through my mother and my dad to have set some kind of foundation as to who I was. I was not what I was required to be in Florida. I was not that. I couldn’t be that. I was taught that I had basic rights as a human being. I was taught that I was someone.
I knew we had no money; still, I was taught that I was someone. We had no electricity and no running water; still, I was taught that I was someone. I had very little education — a year and a half, in fact, was all the schooling I was exposed to –still I knew that I was someone,” he added in an interview with Oprah in 2000
“I had to think twice, or three times about every step I took,” Poitier said.
I was in a culture that denied me my very existence. And I had no forces behind me. When I walked the streets outside of ‘The Neighborhood,’ which I was confined to, I had to be constantly on the alert. The America I am speaking of was a different place back then: the dominant culture did not care about my survival as a human being.” Observer
“(Blacks) were so new in Hollywood. There was almost no frame of reference for us except as stereotypical, one-dimensional characters,” Poitier told Winfrey. “I had in mind what was expected of me, not just what other Blacks expected but what my mother and father expected. And what I expected of myself.”
It’s been an enormous responsibility,” Poitier told Winfrey. “And I accepted it, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to. In order for others to come behind me, there were certain things I had to do.”
The nature of my life over the last 36 years has been such that the urgency that was evident today has been bubbling in me personally for most of these years. At least most of the years, I came into adulthood. I became interested in the civil rights struggle out of a necessity to survive,” Poitier said during a roundtable with other March on Washington participants and filmed in 1963.
“I found it necessary for self-protection and to perpetuate my survival that I involve myself in any activity that would ease my burden momentarily,” he said about his decision to attend the march.
Quotes and Sayings:
I never had an occasion to question color; therefore, I only saw myself as what I was… a human being.
I’ll always be chasing you… Glory.
I had chosen to use my work as a reflection of my values.
I decided in my life that I would do nothing that did not reflect positively on my father’s life.
But my dad also was a remarkable man, a good person, a principled individual, a man of integrity.
I always had the ability to say no. That’s how I called my own shots.
A good deed here, a good deed there, a good thought here, a good comment there, all added up to my career in one way or another.
As a man, I’ve been representative of the values I hold dear. And the values I hold dear are carryovers from the lives of my parents.
History passes the final judgment.
I come from a great family. I’ve seen family life, and I know how wonderful, how nurturing, and how wonderful it can be.
There is not racial or ethnic domination of hopelessness. It’s everywhere.”
Forgiveness works two ways, in most instances. People have to forgive themselves too. The powerful have to forgive themselves for their behavior. That should be a sacred process.”
I am an ordinary person who has had an extraordinary life.
I was the only Black person on the set. It was unusual for me to be in a circumstance in which every move I made was tantamount to representation of 18 million people.
In my case, the body of work stands for itself… I think my work has been representative of me as a man.
I always wanted to be someone better the next day than I was the day before.”
So I had to be careful. I recognized the responsibility that, whether I liked it or not, I had to accept whatever the obligation was. That was to behave in a manner, to carry myself in such a professional way, as if there ever is a reflection, it’s a positive one.
So I’m OK with myself, with history, my work, who I am, and who I was.
I’d seen my father. He was a poor man, and I watched him do astonishing things.”
So it’s been kind of a long road, but it was a good journey altogether.
To simply wake up every morning a better person than when I went to bed.
Sleep in peace Dear Sidney — we will miss you.
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