Son of the soil, Academy Award winner, trailblazing pioneer Sir Sidney Poitier was bred a native Cat Islander. He was born in the United States during a weekend trip his parents, James and Evelyn Poitier, made to Miami to sell their tomato crop. His parents were tomato farmers from Arthur’s Town, Cat Island. Sidney was the youngest of seven children. The icon spent his formative years roaming Cat Island. His early boyhood experiences on Cat Island sculpted him to be the legend he would become.
At the age of ten, Poitier moved to Nassau, where his father worked as a cab driver.
In Nassau, Poitier quickly became sidetracked by juvenile delinquency. As a result, his father sent him to Miami to live with an older sibling. He then made a big jump, trading a relaxed island boy lifestyle for the busy concrete jungle; at 15 years old, with $3 in his pocket, he moved to New York City.
In New York, to stay afloat, Poitier worked as a dishwasher, making $4 per hour. One day, the day that would ultimately shape the course of Poitier’s life, he auditioned for the American Negro Theatre, despite being unable to read. The theater representative belittled and rejected Poitier. The humiliation of this rejection instilled in Poitier a quiet determination to prove that he had within him the talent to become a great actor one day.
Harnessing the life lessons of hard work, polite manners and resourcefulness learned in Cat Island, Poitier powered on. With dignified resolve, after six months of acting lessons, he auditioned again; this time, he was accepted.
In 1950, Poitier debuted his acting career in a film noir “No Way Out,” igniting a trailblazing path that led him to shatter glass ceilings, break down walls and become the icon that he was. Prestigious roles catapulted Poitier to stardom. Known for his integrity and determined demeanor, Poitier went on to become one of Hollywood’s elite actors.
In 1958, Poitier received an Oscar nomination for his role in “The Defiant Ones.” Then, he starred in “Lilies in the Field” in 1963. The endearing performance earned Poitier an Academy Award, the first for a Black actor. This award opened the doors for many Black actors today.
Poitier’s iconic roles on screen reflect many of his roles off screen, which were filled with vigor and transcended stereotypes. He transferred the same dynamism from his cinematic career to his involvement with the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s.
A gallant career befitting of a gallant man, Poitier’s talents, his nobility and his poise have created a legacy that the world has come to know and love. His dignity and pride on and off screen paved a road for many more to follow.
This legend’s tale starts with Cat Island.