BALTIMORE — Civil rights activist and Emmy Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson will join an illustrious list of Black luminaries this summer, when she is awarded the NAACP’s 95th Spingarn Medal, the association’s highest honor, July 15 during the NAACP National Convention in Kansas City.
The Spingarn Medal, instituted in 1914 by then-NAACP Chairman Joel E. Spingarn, is awarded for outstanding and noble achievement by an American of African descent.
“Cicely Tyson’s contributions to African American arts and culture in both acting and modeling are unprecedented and inspiring. Not only was Ms. Tyson a brilliant and groundbreaking actress but she was a stalwart supporter of human and civil rights for all Americans," said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. “Her portrayals in masterpieces such as the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, and King, among others, were simply dynamic, and the role she has played as a human rights leader and trailblazer in the arts is invaluable.”
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous praised Tyson for her dedication to the cause of civil and human rights.
“It is rare to find someone who uses their celebrity status with such dedication and impact to advance the causes of human and civil rights,” Jealous stated. “We are honored to give her the highest award our 101-year-old organization can bestow.”
Tyson began her career as a fashion model, gracing the cover of both premier African-American and general market magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She later transitioned from her modeling career into acting, and was featured on several television series, most notably “East Side/West Side” and the long-running soap opera “Guiding Light.” Tyson went on to star in the popular off-Broadway musical The Blacks, which featured James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett Jr., Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou and Charles Gordone.
In 1972, Tyson received the nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the film Sounder. She won two Emmys for her role in the 1974 film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Other memorable television roles include the television mini-series Roots, which received 36 Emmy nominations; King, in which she portrayed Coretta Scott King; The Marva Collins Story; When No One Would Listen and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, for which she garnered her third Emmy.
The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, N.J., was renamed in honor of Tyson. She actively supports the school, located in one of the state’s most underserved communities of color.
“I have had the good fortune of being acknowledged for accomplishments throughout my career, but the fact that I am now being recognized for what has been my life’s goal by the most distinguished organization within our community is moving beyond words,” said Tyson. “My deepest gratitude goes out to the Award’s Committee, the NAACP Board of Directors and members of the NAACP.”
NAACP Board Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Convention Planning Committee Leon Russell said Tyson was an easy choice.
“Ms. Tyson’s stellar body of work spans several decades, and she has presented aspiring African American actors, actresses, models, and artists with an outstanding example of talent, brilliance and commitment to giving back to her community,” he stated.
To date, 94 Spingarn Medals have been awarded, recognizing achievements in a range of fields. Medalists include Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), former U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, media personality Oprah Winfrey, baseball hall of famer Henry "Hank" Aaron, Vernon Jordan, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), William H. Cosby Jr., Maya Angelou, former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Percy E. Sutton, Gordon Parks, John Hope Franklin, the late Judge Leon Higginbotham Jr., Carl Rowan, NAACP Chairman Emeriti Julian Bond and Myrlie Evers-Williams, businessman and publisher Earl G. Graves Sr., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., artist Jacob Lawrence, Rosa Parks, opera singer Leontyne Price, Judge Constance Baker Motley, Judge Robert L. Carter and the late Oliver W. Hill Sr.