Understanding The Legacy: 10 Things To Know About Trailblazer Cicely Tyson

The last week has been difficult for many. Beginning with the one-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant's tragic death, the week was set to a somber tone. Then, basketball fans and the Atlanta community lost the bright smile and warm nature of NBA analyst Sekou Smith. As time ticked closer to the weekend, the world lost another legend, Cicely Tyson.

Tyson was a legendary force in the world of entertainment whose legacy extends far beyond the movie screen. While she is best known for her roles in Sounder and Hoodlum, Tyson's greatness was best exemplified in the way she mentored and motivated a generation of young Black creatives. It is impossible to capture all that she achieved during her 96 years on Earth, but here are just a few things to remember about the late Cicely Tyson.

She Holds Honorary Degrees From Four Universities

Cicely Tyson may not have graduated from a four-year university, but she knows her way around more than a few college campuses. During her five-decade-long career, Tyson earned honorary degrees from four universities including Howard University, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and Columbia University. In 2016, she was able to deliver the commencement address for Howard University's spring graduation.

She Has Been Inducted Into The American Theater Hall Of Fame

Over the years, Tyson has been known for her work in both film and television. Oftentimes, many forget that Tyson is also a masterful force in the world of theaters. From 1957 through 2015, Tyson appeared in a number of theater productions ranging from Dark of the Moon to The Gin Game. In 2018, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame and recognized for her contributions.

She Is An Honorary Member Of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

As previously mentioned, Tyson did not attend a four-year university, but she has received four honorary degrees. The same could be said about her ties to historically Black Greek organizations. Tyson is an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. After her passing, the distinguished sorority issued a statement regarding the American icon.

"Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of one of our most treasured sisters, Honorary Member Cicely Tyson, who made her peaceful transition this morning at the age of 96," the organization tweeted.

She Is The First Black Woman To Receive An Honorary Academy Award

Tyson is no stranger to the award stage. During her illustrious career, she has won three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, a SAG Award and a Tony Award. Unfortunately, she worked most of her career without receiving an Academy Award. In 2018, that all changed. Tyson received an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to film over the last fifty years.

She Earned The Presidential Medal Of Freedom

Cicely Tyson's seven decades of work earned her the highest civilian honor in American society, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During former President Barack Obama's final days in office, he awarded her the medal alongside the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Shortly after her passing, former President Barack Obama issued a statement regarding Tyson's life, legacy and long-lasting impact.

"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," he tweeted.

She Had A Successful Modeling Career Before She Began Acting

Many fans know Tyson for her work as an actress, but she was well known in the modeling world before she ever stepped foot on a set. She began her modeling career after a photographer discovered her and asked her to work with Ebony magazine.

She Is The First Black Woman To Ever Star In A Television Drama Series

Actress Cicely Tyson cemented her place in American history when she starred as Jane Foster in the series, East Side/West Side. In this role, she appeared in 22 episodes and became the first Black woman to star in a television series. This role would launch her career and lead to roles in The Guiding Light, King, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and of course, Roots.

She Became The Namesake Of A New Jersey School

Cicely Tyson left her impact on education in many ways. Not only did she earn four honorary degrees from top institutions, but she also had a school named after in 2009. Right outside of her home state of New York, the city of East Orange, New Jersey named a performing arts school after her. The Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts is now entering its 12th year of serving aspiring Cicely Tysons.

She Is Poised To Become A Best Selling Author

Before leaving this Earth, Tyson left an incredible gift for us all, an autobiography. In the wake of her passing, it now sits atop the Amazon Best Sellers list. Over the next few days, it is likely to also sit atop the New York Times Best Sellers list as well.

She Is A Selfless Legend

If there is one thing that Cicely Tyson always did, it is work to be a part of something bigger than herself and her own desires. Instead, she used her time to work for the greater good. During one of her final interviews, Tyson spoke about how she always wanted to create a bigger stage not for herself, but rather for the talented Black women around her.

“I have been an actress my whole career who’s never been paid any money, because I never really worked for money,” Tyson said.

“I’ve worked because there were certain issues that I wish were addressed about myself and my race as a Black woman.”

Photo Credits: Getty Images

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