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USA: Sidney Poitier, Legendary Black Actor and Civil Rights Activist, Passes Away, at 94

Sidney Poitier receiving Medal of Honor from US President Barack Obama, in 2009

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Sidney Poitier, a legendary Black actor and civil rights activist has passed away in Los Angeles, CA on January 6, 2022. He was 94 years old.
His death was confirmed by the office of the prime minister of the Bahamas. Sidney Poitier  was  the first Black man even to win a Best Actor Oscar.  Sidney Poitier,  whose parents hailed from the Bahamas, was also known for being the most prominent, if not the only representative of African-Americans in mainstream cinema during the tumultous period of the American Civil Rights movement.

Sidney Poitier: Black African-American Iconic Actor and Civil Rights Activist.

Sidney Poitier's achievements have set a foundation for Black actors. In 1964, he was  the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as Homer, the reluctant handyman in Lilies of the Field, in 1963.  Over his life, he received numerous awards, including a Grammy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, a Academy Honorary Award, for his lifetime achievement in movies and film and a British Academy Award.  He also was given multiples honorary awards including,  Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1981, AFI Life Achievement Award in 1992,  Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994,  and  BAFTA Fellowship in 2016.

He  received several medal of honors, including the Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974 and  the Kennedy Center Honor in 1995. From 1997 to 2007, he was the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan.

Over his life, Sidney Poitier also focused on human rights  and was  an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. In 2009, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.   

 In 1963, Sidney Poitier attended the March on Washington and in 1964,  he traveled to Mississippi to meet with activists, following the infamous slayings of three young civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.  During a roundtable on the March on Washington, Sidney Poitier said, about his involvement in the Civil Rights movement and his participation in the march: 

"The nature of my life over the last 36 years has been such that the urgency that was evident today has been bubbling in me personally for most of these years. At least most of the years I came into adulthood. I became interested in the civil rights struggle out of a necessity to survive. I found it necessary for self-protection and to perpetuate my survival that I involve myself in any activity that would ease my burden momentarily,"


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Sidney Poitier: Black Man  Role Model, who Defied Odds.

Sidney Poitier was born premature in Miami, Florida,  on February 20, 1927 from Bahamian parents,  farmers on Cat Island, who were visiting. By the birth, he became a US citizen but was raised in the Bahamas, until he was 15 years old. At age fifteen, he was then sent to Miami to live with his brother's family. At  age sixteen, he moved to New York City,  where he worked several jobs as a dishwasher.

He enlisted in the army. After  being discharged from the army,  Sidney Poitier  trained at the American Negro Theater and, later, performed in a Broadway production of Lysistrata.

The actor defied all odds and went on to become a record-breaker in the film industry. Sidney Poitier, who was also known for his activism work on human rights issues, made history in 1964 as the first Black man to win a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Lilies of the Field. He went on to win another honorary Academy Award in 2002.

Sidney Poitier will be remembered for his unique artistic achievements against all odds, but also his unequivocal drive to courageously support the civil rights movement, in critical times.

At his death several prominent actors, movie stars, politicians and activists paid tributes. These include the following and many, many more.

US President Joe Biden stated:  "once-in-a-generation actor and advocate whose work carried so much dignity, power, and grace that it changed the world on and off the big screen. With unflinching grandeur and poise — his singular warmth, depth, and stature on-screen — Sidney helped open the hearts of millions and changed the way America saw itself. He blazed a path for our Nation to follow, and a legacy that touches every part of our society today".

Former US  President Barack Obama  called Sidney Poitiers "a singular talent who epitomized dignity and grace". 

Harry Belafonte wrote, in a statement to the media wrote:  “For over 80 years, Sidney and I laughed, cried and made as much mischief as we could, He was truly my brother and partner in trying to make this world a little better. He certainly made mine a whole lot better.”

Denzel Washington said in a statement to the media:  “It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years. God bless him and his family.

Oprah Winfrey tweeted: "For me, the greatest of the "Great Trees" has fallen. My honor to have loved him as a mentor. Friend. Brother. Confidant. Wisdom teacher. The utmost, highest regard and praise for his most magnificent, gracious, eloquent life."

Tyler Perry  tweeted: "To wake up this morning to a call that Sidney Poitier has passed away... all I can tell you is that my heart broke in another place. The grace and class that this man has shown throughout his entire life, the example he set for me, not only as a black man but as a human being will never be forgotten"

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