It was reported that Sidney Poitier (born 1927) died on Jan. 6, 2022. He was a Bahamian-American/African American actor, film director and ambassador to Japan and UNESCO. He was the first African American and Bahamian to receive the Academy Award for Best Actor (1963 for “Lilies of the Field”). In 2009 he received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the recipient of many other awards.
Poitier was a fantastic actor. I remember his powerful performance in the movie “A Raisin In The Sun” (released in 1961; based on the play by Lorraine Hansberry, 1930-1965). He played the married son, Walter Lee, living with his wife and son with his mother in a Chicago apartment. He wanted some of the insurance money his mother was to receive from the death of his father.
Walter Lee’s mother used some of the money to pay down on a house for all of them to live in a different neighborhood.
A white man comes to the apartment to try to return the down-payment so that these Black people do not move into the white neighborhood. Watch the movie to see Walter Lee’s metamorphosis in response to this man’s offer.
The movie reminds us of the existence of restrictive covenants that prohibited members of certain racial, ethnic or religious groups from moving into certain neighborhoods.
Poitier starred in the movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” a movie that focused on attitudes toward mixed marriages and relationships. In the movie, a white woman takes her Black fiancé (Poitier) to meet her parents. “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” was released in 1967, several months after miscegenation laws (anti-mixed race marriages) were outlawed in the U.S. by the Supreme Court in the Loving vs. Virginia case (Virginia would not allow and threatened imprisonment for a white man married to a Black woman).
Poitier said in his book, “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography,” “We’re all imperfect, and life is simply a perpetual, unending struggle against those imperfections.”
Many (most?) of the movies in which Sidney Poitier performed spoke to the existence of bigotry and discrimination in our world. Below is a poem by Irish-American poet James Patrick Kinney (1923-1974) called “The Cold Within“ written in the 1960s.
It reveals the variety of prejudicial attitudes and behaviors found in humankind. The poem was rejected by the Saturday Evening Post at that time because, according to the magazine, it was “too controversial for the times” (Wikipedia). It was during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
The Cold Within
Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.
Their dying fire in need of logs,
The first man held his back.
For, of the faces ’round the fire,
She noticed one was black.
The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church.
And could not bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.
The third one sat in tattered clothes;
He gave his coat a hitch,
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?
The rich man just sat back
And thought of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight,
For he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.
And the last man of his fallen group
did nought except for gain.
Giving just to those who gave,
Was how he played the game,
Their logs held tight in death’s stilled hands
Was proof of human sin.
They did not die from cold without,
They died from the cold within.
Well done. Those movies spoke of many humankind cold within. Thank you once again for stretching my knowledge.
Great poem Peggy! So true of many humans…
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