In Memoriam: Sidney Poitier, 1927-2022

January 7, 2022

"I had chosen to use my work as a reflection of my values."

We remember actor and film director Sidney Poitier, who became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field in 1963. Born in Miami, Florida, in 1927, Poitier moved to New York City at sixteen to start his theatre career. He briefly returned to the stage in 1961 when he performed on Broadway in Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. Impatient with the stereotypical roles assigned to Black actors, Poitier wrote the story, For Love of Ivy, which became the first mainstream romantic comedy to feature two African American stars. Poitier explained: “I look back on those people who came before me, and I owe them a debt…I knew when I came on the scene how painful it had to have been for them sometimes.”

Off-screen, Poitier was an activist in support of the Civil Rights movement. In 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

black and white photograph, head shot of a young Black man, facing right
Sidney Poitier by Roy Schatt / Gelatin silver print / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / © Roy Schatt Estate