I can still feel the incredible and infectious spirit that pioneering actress Cicely Tyson displayed during a visit to the school named in her honor. Word of Tyson's death this week brought back powerful memories of the best event I covered in my 37 years of reporting in New Jersey.
The special day was June 11, 1999 at the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey. The event was created to honor civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
Parks was 86 year old when she visited the school. Her memorable entrance included Tyson pushing Rosa's wheelchair from the street into the building. Outside, students threw roses at her feet. They joined teachers and faculty in cheering on Parks.
It's what happened INSIDE the school that will never be forgotten. The students were ready for Rosa and put on a performance that drew praise and tears.
Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Blacks responded with a crippling boycott, which many consider the start of the modern civil rights movement.
Parks died in 2005. She was 92.
Many WBGO fans know that Cicely Tyson from 1981 to 1989 was the wife of legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, however most remember her elegant and dignified presence on the stage and screen during a six-decade plus career. She inspired generations of African-American actors who grew up watching her. Here mesmorizing performances came in such movies as Sounder and the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
Tyson won Emmys and, at age 89, a Tony award.
Her amazing life ended on January 28, 2021. She was 96.
Looking back, I realize more than ever that I was actually in the presence of two strong-willed pioneers that day. I've shared the experience many times with my daughter and her students in Newark and Neptune.
Click above if you'd like to hear what happened that day.