By Faye Gaston
February is the annual Black History Month. Hermetta Williams sent a photo to the Union Springs Herald newspaper of her with Cicely Tyson. She made some personal history in meeting Cicely Tyson, a Black actress said to be one of the most talented and beautiful actresses on stage, movies, and television, and acknowledged with numerous awards. With the announcement of her death on January 28, 2021, at age 96, Hermetta was reminded of standing in the presence of "greatness." CicelyTyson's career as an actress and fashion model spanned seven decades. She was known for choosing roles that portrayed positive images of strong African-American women. She forged a path for scores of Black actresses on Broadway and Hollywood.
Some years ago, Hermetta was being honored on a program as the Assistant Purchasing Director for Milwaukee County. Cicely Tyson was the keynote speaker. After the program, she congratulated Hermetta and encouraged her. Cicely said her legacy would be that "she did her best." Hermetta is a big fan of Tyson's movies.
Cicely Tyson made Black history. She is the first African-American to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a TV movie. It was for the role in 1974 of a 110-year-old former slave titled "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." She also won an Emmy for her TV role in "Roots" (Kunta Kinte's mother).
In 2013, she won a Tony Award for Best Actress for her Broadway role in "The Trip to Bountiful" at age 89. She was the oldest recipient to win an acting Tony award. One of her quotes: "Age is just a number. Life and aging are the greatest gifts that we could possibly ever have".
In 2020, she received the Peabody Award for her career achievement as an example of Civil Rights. She co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
She was the first African-American star of a TV drama series called "East Side/West Side." In 2018, at age 93, she was the first Black woman to receive an Honorary Oscar in the honorary award category.
She was one of eleven African-American actresses to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. In 1973 she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for the movie "Sounder."
She received the National NAACP 95th Spingarn Medal to an African-American who has achieved outstanding levels of Achievement.
She was inducted into the (1977) Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame; (2018) American Theatre Hall of Fame; (2020) Television Hall of Fame. She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997.
In 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, for her contribution to the arts and American culture.
She was pictured on a $3.25 postage stamp issued by her parents' native island of Nevis in the Caribbean in 2014.
At her death, her net worth was $10 million. She had been married three times.
Cicely was the daughter of very religious Caribbean immigrants. Her mother was a domestic, and her father was a carpenter and painter. She was not permitted to go to plays or movies. Her parents kicked her out of their home when she got her first acting job ( "choosing a sinful path"). At age 17, she had a daughter, "Joan." At age 18, she worked as a secretary, then as a model. A fashion editor of Ebony magazine discovered her, and with her stunning looks rose to the top of the modeling industry, featured on covers of Ebony, Jet, Harper's Bazaar, and Vogue magazines. She began acting in Off-Broadway plays and small roles in feature films. This led to her leading roles, including acting in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968); A Woman Called Moses (1978); The Help (2011); and Fried Green Tomatoes.