The late, world renowned actress and activist, Cicely Tyson, was honored last week at the official unveiling of an East Harlem street renamed in her honor. The stretch of 101st Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues, where Tyson was raised, was officially renamed Cicely Tyson Way. The historic occasion took place on Saturday, September 17, featuring a presentation by the Honorable Diana Ayala, New York City Council deputy speaker, and followed by performances from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Dominican Folklore Dance Troupe, and many more notable musicians, poets, and community members.

The renaming initiative was spearheaded last summer by the New York City Council and the Cicely Tyson Street Renaming and Landmark Committee, co-founded by Ayala, Taina Traverso, Nina M. Saxon and Deborah Quinones. The committee gathered dozens of signatures for its petition requesting this high honor, including from the New York Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., where Tyson was an honorary member.

Image: courtesy of Blanche Nurse Hodge

Tyson was born in New York City in 1924, to parents from the Caribbean island, Nevis, who raised her and her two siblings in a five story walk up on East 101st Street, between Lexington and 3rd Avenues. She began her career as a model, after being discovered by a fashion editor at EBONY Magazine. She later evolved into acting in off-broadway productions and small feature film roles, before quickly rising to promince on both the stage and screen, appearing in celebrated films and television programs including RootsThe Autobiography of Jane PittmanFried Green Tomatoes and How to Get Away with Murder. Throughout her career, Tyson earned three Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, and several other accolades including the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors lifetime achievement award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by Barack Obama in 2016.

Before her death in January 2021 at the age of 96, Tyson remained deeply connected to her childhood community. “She made it her mission to contribute to East Harlem’s quality of life,” recalls Tania Traverso, co-founder of the Cicely Tyson Street Renaming and Landmark Committee. “Lady Tyson, with her partners, renovated her former childhood home into a low-income rental along with 3 other dwelling –  the revelation of her impact brought a sense of pride that embraced the heart and spirit of Ms. Tyson’s East Harlem community.”

The unveiling ceremony welcomed the Harlem community for a free celebration which included public dancing, art, and poetry, celebrating the great life of the legendary thespian. “When people look up at Cicely Tyson Way's sign, those who knew who she was will feel proud of this Black woman's accomplishments,” says Trevoso. “Youth and Elders who never knew her will go on social media and research her life which may inspire them to pick up Ms. Tyson's mantle and continue the work to inspire future generations.”