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February 20

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier, who was raised in the Bahamas, was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995.

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1927: Breaking the Color Line
Sidney Poitier is born in Miami, Florida
The first African American actor to receive an Academy Award® for Best Actor, Sidney Poitier helped dismantle a worn-out belief system in Hollywood—that audiences were not familiar with seeing black actors in lead roles of serious films.

After a stint in the U.S. Army and a stage career, Poitier turned in many deeply nuanced performances in films like Lilies of the Field, To Sir, With Love, and In the Heat of the Night where he created the character of cool, highly-intuitive detective Virgil Tibbs.  In 1967, in fact, he was the top box-office draw, starring in three well-received films including Lilies, for which he won that Oscar®.

Poitier went on to direct films such as Stir Crazy, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Audiences have long considered Poitier onscreen and off as charismatic and elegant.
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