Over the weekend, the legendary actress Cicely Tyson was immortalized in Harlem: East 101st Street (between 3rd and Lexington Avenue) is now officially named “Cicely Tyson Way.”
Tyson was born in 1924 in the Bronx and when she was three years old, her family moved to Harlem to 178 East 101 St. — so, the new street is right near of her childhood home. She was first discovered by an editor at Ebony magazine and after years of modeling, she started to act in Off-Broadway productions and in small film roles in 1957 (according to imdb).
In 1968, she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and four years later in 1972, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the acclaimed film Sounder. She later won two Emmys for her work in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and also was known for her roles in Roots (1977), King (1978) and A Woman Called Moses (1978). Later in her illustrious career, she won the best actress Tony Award for playing Carrie Watts in the revival of A Trip to Bountiful in 2013.
Tyson continuously made it a point to only take parts that painted Black women in a strong, positive light, and outside of her acting career was involved in art and charity organizations like the Urban Gateways, the Human Family Institute and the American Film Institute (according to Variety). Ms. Tyson even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016 and was an honorary member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., NYC. She died on January 28, 2021 at the age of 96 of natural causes.
Later in 2021 after her passing, the Cicely Tyson Street Naming and Landmarking Committee (CTSNMC) was established in NYC to find ways to honor the theater legend. Its founding members were Diana Ayala, Nina Saxon, Taina Traverso, and Debbie Quinones, and its main goal was to rename the Harlem street after Cicely.
After a petition with 12,662 supportive signatures and approval from the New York City Council, the new sign was revealed in a celebratory ceremony on Saturday, September 15 with her family and friends, and a performance by the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
“Ms. Tyson was an inspirational, international, intergenerational icon and proud representative of El Barrio and Harlem,” the committee shared. “Her influence went beyond the art to encompass racial and gender equity, among other causes.”
The street naming is only the beginning of ways to remember Ms. Tyson, as the committee also hopes begin a “larger community heritage initiative that will transform the site into a tourist destination with a festival,” as well as begin a campaign to landmark Ms. Tyson’s childhood residence at 178 East 101 St.