Saturday, August 22, 2009

Congratulations 'MR. TIBBS'!

Among the worthy recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is Sydney Poitier, one of our country's greatest actors.

Long before Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman, Sydney Poitier was not only a premier black actor, he was a bona fide movie star. And the roles he took made African-Americans proud. Whether it was volatile Walter Lee Younger, in Raisin in the Sun, burning with his frustrated ambitions; or the affable and earnest Homer Smith in his Oscar winning role in Lilies of the Field; the doctor who puts turns the world of a liberal white newspaper publisher upside down, when he finds out about Poitier's engagement to his daughter in, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - Poitier exhibited class and poise rarely seen by any actor and which few actors of any background could match. As one of his colleagues put it, "He is our Cary Grant."

One of the two iconic moments in another great film, 'In the Heat of the Night', when Poitier, responds to the racist condescension of the southern sheriff by declaring with a furious pride 'They Call me MR. TIBBS!'

Poitier's roles dealt with race in such a way that it spoke to the frustrations of African-Americans without evoking bitterness or rage. Simply an insistence on being treated with dignity and respect. In doing so, he has won the honor and respect of his colleagues and his countrymen.

Sydney Poitier was also one of the celebrities of his era who demonstrated what it meant to use his fame and wealth to make America better. He, along with Harry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and others, supported the Civil Rights Movement, visibly working with Martin Luther King, Jr. to end segregation and oppression in the country. Dr. King, in paying tribute to Poitier in 1967, said, "He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom. Here is a man who, in the words we so often hear now, is a soul brother."

Not bad for the son of tomato farmers. Not bad for an American. We are all proud!

Here is the other iconic moment from "In the Heat of the Night"...

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