Looking at Cicely Tyson

Danielle A. Jackson at The Current:

“I see the beauty now,” my mother told me when I asked her what she thought of Cicely Tyson’s face, about a week after the pathbreaking actor died in January at ninety-six. “But I didn’t then.” By “then,” she meant the decade and a half in the middle of the twentieth century, when Tyson won role after role in well-financed productions in the Hollywood system and made-for-TV films broadcast on the networks. Those were the years people learned her name. In Tyson’s earliest roles—starting with 1956’s Carib Gold, in which she was part of an ensemble that included Diana Sands and Ethel Waters—she’d made uncredited appearances, customary for actors who were not yet in the union. Tyson was in her early thirties when she began acting, yet she’d place her age behind by a decade at her agent’s request. It was a plausible lie because Tyson kept a youthful glow, with taut, espresso-brown skin that had rosy undertones, round black eyes that pierced and trembled, an erudite poise that made it seem as though her reach stretched well beyond its diminutive frame. For events, she was wise and precise with her attire, a trait she attributed to her parents, who’d arrived at Ellis Island from Nevis toward the end of the 1910s and settled in an East Harlem tenement. “When she and my dad strode into [church]—Mom in her rayon frock, high heels, and straw hat cocked to one side—a hush fell over the sanctuary,” Tyson writes in her memoir, Just as I Am. This was beauty, with substance underneath—wielded as honor and armor.

more here.