Sidney Poitier, Black history maker and groundbreaker

Sidney Poitier challenged the status quo and was intentional with the roles he chose to ensure that he represented empowered characters.

Sidney Poitier judiciously selected roles and films throughout his career as he leveraged his star power and influence on screen, on stage, and in social justice initiatives.

As Gordon Ralfe in a “Patch of Blue,” Poitier’s romance with a sight-impaired white woman conveyed that love is blind. Shackled to Tony Curtis as a fellow escaped inmate in “The Defiant Ones,” the Black and White co-stars delivered the message that racial harmony is essential to mutual survival.

Former President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Academy Award-winning actor Sidney Poitier during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House August 12, 2009, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Throughout his acting career, Poitier challenged the status quo and was intentional with the roles he chose to play. As Virgil Tibbs in the film, “In The Heat of the Night,” where the script was written for a white character to slap Tibbs in the face, Poitier insisted that Tibbs slap the man back.

Poitier was an actor, director and activist who paved the way as the only Black actor in Hollywood during his early years. He won an Academy Award in 1964 for his lead role in “Lilies of the Field,” making him the first Black actor to achieve this honor. Some of his other celebrated starring roles include such films as “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and “To Sir With Love.” 

Besides acting, Poitier was involved in certain points of the Civil Rights movement. He had a hand in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, as well as the memorial for Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. five years later.

Poitier went on to win three Golden Globes, a Grammy and a Screen Actors Guild award. The list of his achievements extends to a Kennedy Center Honor, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

In 2009, Former President Barack Obama awarded Poitier the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As a dual citizenship holder for the Bahamas and the United States, Poitier served as the Bahamas Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

At the age of 94, Poitier died from heart failure on Jan 6. We remember Sidney Poitier today and forever for the tremendous impact he made.

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