#RespectYourElders: Sidney Poitier, 92, is an actor, director, author and diplomat known for his influence on race relations in the United States. He became the first black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963 for his work in “Lilies of the Field.”
Poitier was born in Miami, Florida, but raised by his parents on a farm home on Cat Island in the Bahamas. Poitier attended only a year and a half of schooling and spent the rest of his childhood working. At the age of 16, he took his savings and moved to New York.
After bouncing from job to job and serving in the Army, he decided to pursue acting.
Poitier’s first audition didn’t go well at all, but he eventually landed a role in a production of the Greek comedy “Lysistrata” on Broadway. From there, his career prospered.
By the 1950s, Poitier began receiving recognition for his roles in movies. He appeared in films like “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “The Defiant Ones.”
Poitier’s films frequently addressed racism, segregation and the life of black Americans during the 20th century. In 1964, at the height of Poitier’s career, the Civil Rights Act was enacted into law. Poitier made it his policy to never play any role that would reinforce negative stereotypes about black people in America.
“I felt very much as if I were representing 15, 18 million people with every move I made,” Poitier once wrote.
Poitier’s success in the film industry did not stop him from pursuing other career paths. He directed a number of films over the years, published an autobiography and, from 1997 to 2007, served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan. In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.
Earlier this year, for Poitier’s 92nd birthday, The New York Times published an article on the actor’s legacy. But this isn’t the first time Poitier’s story has been featured in The Times. In 2000, one reporter wrote of Poitier, then 73, “He is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, trim, fit and still smiling the incandescent smile that started his career five decades ago.”
What does Poitier’s legacy mean to you?