“Racism is painful and we need to be outspoken about it, not just its victims. And, on the other hand, victims of racism are responsibly accused of doing as much as they can to investigate what they understand. Keep a clear eye as much. To be the source of racism,” the legendary actor told the Vancouver Sun in 2000.
Here are some other reflections from the late actor on racism and segregation before, during, and after the civil rights era.
Racial tensions in the South initially came as a shock to Poitier when he moved to Florida to live with relatives in the 1940s at the age of 14. Growing up on Cat Island in the Bahamas, his identity was never tied to skin color and he quickly pushed back against that idea.
“I wasn’t what I needed to be in Florida. I wasn’t that. I couldn’t be that. I was taught that I had basic rights as a human being. I was taught that I was someone.” I knew we had no money, yet, I was taught that I was someone. We had no electricity and no running water, yet, I was taught that I was someone. I had little education – A year and a half, really, was everything I got into schooling – even then I knew I was someone.”
About Being a Black Movie Star in Hollywood
“I had to think twice or thrice about my every move,” Poitier said.
“I was in a culture that denied me my existence. And there was no force behind me. When I walked the streets outside of ‘The Neighborhood,’ I had to be constantly vigilant. America I was the one at the time. I was talking about a different place: the dominant culture didn’t care about my existence as a human being.”
About breaking color barriers in film
For a dark-skinned actor like Poitier, it was difficult to find complex roles in the 1950s.
Poitier told Winfrey, “[Blacks]were very new to Hollywood. There was almost no frame of reference for us except for stereotypical, one-dimensional characters.” “I had in mind what was expected of me, not just what other blacks expected, but what my mother and father expected. And what I expected of myself.”
“It’s been a huge responsibility,” Poitier told Winfrey. “And I accepted that, and I lived in a way that showed how I respected that responsibility. I had to. In order for others to follow me, there were things I had to do.”
about his activism
Poitier was also known for his activism and how he embraced the civil rights movement. In 1963, he participated in the March in Washington, and in 1964, the actor traveled to Mississippi to meet with activists in the days following the infamous murders of three young civil rights activists.
He said of his decision to participate in the march, “I found it necessary for my self-protection and to maintain my existence that I should engage myself in any activity that would ease my burden momentarily.” “