Cicely Tyson says racial harmony not yet reality

January 29, 1998


Staff Writer, Waynesboro

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Quoting liberally from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, and at times speaking in the character Miss Jane Pittman, her most famous role, actress Cicely Tyson told an audience of nearly 500 at Shippensburg University Thursday night to hold onto their dreams.

She said King's dream of a world where black and white Americans live and work together in peace is "a dream deferred."

Tyson, a three-time Emmy Award winner for her starring roles in such films as "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," "Sounder" and "The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All," said she spoke with King's oldest daughter recently.


"I asked her what Martin Luther King Jr. would say if he were alive today," Tyson said. "She said, 'I think my daddy would be very disappointed.' We are obsessed with me, me, me, the me generation. The only way we can become whole is if we think of others."

Tyson, who spoke after the university's Gifted Minority Scholarship Benefit Program, said blacks have seen some changes.

"We've taken some baby steps. If Colin Powell had accepted the nomination, we might have had the first black president," she said.

Tyson said women too have made progress.

"We used to be referred to as dolls, tomatoes, chicks, babes and broads. Now we're ..., witches and foxes. Language gives us an insight on how women are viewed in our male-dominated society," she said.

Tyson offered this advice for young men and women concerning children: "My advice to all of you, male and female, is if you're not ready to be a parent, then leave those children where they are. Don't bring them into the world to be used and abused. Once you do, bring them here. You have a responsibility to them."

Tyson called Jane Pittman a once-in-a-lifetime role. The fictional character lived to be 110 years old and in her lifetime was a slave and witness to the black militancy of the 1960s.

"It was awesome. What an experience that was," she said.

She advised anyone considering an acting career to study acting and learn the techniques first, although she had no experience when she began.

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