“Whatever good I have accomplished as an actress, I believe came in direct proportion to my efforts to portray black women who have made positive contributions to my heritage. What attracted me to acting was the realization that this extremely shy person could suddenly speak. I could express my emotions through someone else. I did not set out to become a role model. I did set out to become the best possible actress I could be. My careful choice of roles came as a direct result of the type of negative images that were being projected of black people throughout the world, particularly black women. I knew deep within me that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress — I had something to say as a member of the human race, black and female.
The gift of portraying Jane Pittman afforded me the privilege of interviewing several black women ranging from the ages of ninety-seven to one-hundred and five. One of the women, in recalling her life, told me how wonderful it was growing up in the South. This woman who was taken away from her parents at the age of six and sent to work. I sat there looking at this remarkable face, scarred with the ravages of life — Those eyes, that voice — the pain was agonizing.
Role Model? My mother leads the pack. When I think of the price she paid for “this life,” I regard her as to all of the other black woman throughout history: miraculous. They are miracles in this human race. Somehow they are always at the bottom of the ladder, the last rung. And somebody is always trampling on their fingers. Yet despite the pain, the bruises and the bleeding, they did not let go. They hung on for as long as they could and when they felt they had rallied enough strength from within to reach for the next rung, they did. Those are the role models!
This constant reminder by society that I am ” different” because of the color of my skin, once I step outside of my door, is not my problem — it ‘s theirs. I have never made it my problem and never will. I will die for my right to be human — just human. When we were children (there were three of us — my brother, my sister, and myself), among the many things mama taught us was embroidery. She would buy these huge things, tablecloths, bedspreads — whatever — and she would give each of us a corner to work (the fourth corner was hers ). “When I get back,” she would say, “I want you to have finished this much right here.” Today we each have several of these beautiful pieces — remembrances of Mama ‘s efforts to keep her family harmonious.
I say that if each person in this world will simply take a small piece of this huge thing, this tablecloth, bedspread, whatever and work it regardless of the color of the yarn, we will have harmony on this planet.” - Cicely Tyson, I Dream A World