The Jackie Robinson Foundation (JRF) mourns the loss of venerable actor, civil rights activist, and friend Sidney Poitier. Poitier is a global icon, whose profound impact stretched from his pioneering career that changed perceptions of race and opened doors for the next generation of Black actors, to his active engagement in the Civil Rights Movement.
Poitier distinguished himself as the first Black American to win an Oscar for best actor, which he did in 1964 for “Lilies of the Field,” having been nominated for best actor in 1958 for “The Defiant Ones.” His starring roles in “No Way Out” in 1950, “Raisin in the Sun” in 1961, in “Patch of Blue” in 1965, and his three stellar performances in 1967 in “To Sir With Love,” “In The Heat of the Night,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” as well as his highly praised, television portrayals of Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1991 and Nelson Mandela in 1997, just some highlights of his prolific career — all helped to earn him unqualified respect as one of the finest actors of the last century.
Poitier was a treasured friend of Jackie and Rachel Robinson and served on the JRF board of directors from 1979 to 1996. Among Poitier’s many efforts to advance racial equality, one resonates loudly at JRF. In 1959, Poitier joined Harry Belafonte and Jackie Robinson to form the African American Students Foundation that ultimately funded 770 scholarships for African students to attend college in the United States from 1959 to 1963. (Notably, the father of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, was one such student.)
On many occasions, Poitier used his platform and power in Hollywood to affect positive change – from greenlighting films that would not have gotten done otherwise, to refusing roles that perpetuated negative stereotypes, to demanding pay equity and other forms of fairness and social justice.
Superb in his art and even more magnificent in his advocacy, Mr. Poitier will forever serve as a shining example of excellence and grace. He is a gift that keeps the world believing in the power of humanity.
JRF extends its deepest condolences to the Poitier family.
Poitier is survived by his wife, retired Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus, and six daughters, Anika and Sydney with Shimkus, and Beverly, Pamela, and Sherri with Poitier’s first wife Juanita Hardy. His daughter Gina passed away in 2018.
To quote actor Jeffrey Wright, RIP, Sir, with love.