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Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier dies

During the tumultuous 1960s, Poitier starred in film roles that portrayed black Americans in a positive light


Actor Sidney Poitier with his Oscar for Lilies of the Field Associated Press, file

Trailblazing actor Sidney Poitier dies

Sidney Poitier, the first African American to win an Oscar for best actor, died on Thursday at age 94.

The youngest son of a tomato farmer from the Bahamas, Poitier grew up illiterate. He could barely read during his first audition, and the director kicked him out. Poitier decided to become an actor anyway: He learned to read and worked as a theater janitor in exchange for acting lessons.

Throughout his career of more than 50 film and television roles, Poitier focused on acting in, producing, and directing films that portrayed black Americans in a positive light and avoided racial stereotypes. In one year, 1967, he starred in To Sir, With Love; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; and In the Heat of the Night, all of which dealt with race relations. He won best actor at the Academy Awards for his role in Lilies of the Field in 1963.

Though not as politically active as his close friend and fellow actor Harry Belafonte, Poitier was involved in the civil rights movement. He participated in the 1963 March on Washington. In 1964, Belafonte recruited him to help deliver donations to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights group in Greenwood, Miss. The Ku Klux Klan followed them during the visit.

Poitier was raised Catholic but expressed agnosticism and deism as an adult. In his autobiography The Measure of a Man, he described his view of God, writing, “this consciousness is a force so powerful … so unimaginably calibrated in its sensitivity that not one leaf falls in the deepest of forests on the darkest of nights unnoticed.”

Poitier was married to Juanita Hardy for 15 years and had four daughters with her. Three survive him, as do his two daughters from his second wife, Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus.


Joseph McCoy Joseph is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course.

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SAWGUNNER

His pairing with Tony Curtis in "The Defiant Ones" predated his "Heat of The Night" role and touched on the racism of our penal/criminal justice system. Yet I always liked the slow transformation of two men chained together as bitter enemies who nonetheless evolve into friends
And for some reason the obits fail to note an early film where a young Poitier starred alongside a very young Yvonne DeCarlo and her leading man, Clark Gable. Though raised a slave in New Orleans young Paru was more or less the top right hand man to Gable the aging Rhett Butler-esque plantation owner.

Salty1

I always loved this actor. He did so much to change America to have a positive view of blacks and end racism in the general populace.

SAWGUNNERSalty1

Throughout the 60s I think Poitier and Cosby were able to chip away at or entirely demolish most of the (and I can use no other word that better fits) "systemic" racism of pop culture and entertainment. Neither man ever felt the need to embrace any type of coarse militancy along the lines of Dick Gregory or James Bladwin.

Salty1SAWGUNNER

Well stated Sawgunner!

SAWGUNNERSalty1

Thank you! And let's not ever forget the "slap heard around the world" from the film he made with Rod Steiger "In the Heat of The Night". Of course that film inspired a TV show. Carrol O'Connor took the role of the Chief even though the TV show producers had wanted Steiger to reprise his role as Chief Gillespie.

Salty1SAWGUNNER

I don’t remember that one so I will have to get it and watch it. You really remember well the older shows!