Andy Ingraham Reflects on the Loss of Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier, Medal of Honor - Barack Obama

Sidney Poitier receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama

by Howard Campbell

[SOUTH FLORIDA] – One of the first movies Andy Ingraham watched as a youth in The Bahamas was In The Heat of The Night, a racially-charged 1967 drama starring Sidney Poitier, who died on January 7 in Los Angeles at age 94.

In a pivotal scene, Poitier’s character Virgil Tibbs is slapped by racist white southerner Endicott (played by Larry Gates). The Philadelphia detective retaliates similarly in a bold show of defiance that not only shocked Civil Rights era America, but had a lasting impact on Ingraham.

“It was the slap that was heard, and seen and felt around the world. It said, ‘do not try that with me’,” he said.

Poitier was the first black man to win an Academy Award. Which came for his role as handyman Homer Smith in Lilies of The Field in 1964.

Ingraham, who is president of the Bahamian Diaspora in South Florida, described Poitier’s death as “monumental”. The youngest of seven children. He was born in Miami to Bahamian parents from Cat Island where he lived until he was 15 when he moved to Miami.

Early Films

Prior to that, he starred in gritty films such as Blackboard Jungle in which he played Gregory Miller, a brooding student who taunts teacher Richard Dadier, played by Glenn Ford. Poitier also starred in 1961’s A Raisin in The Sun, as a member of a struggling black family; Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as a black man who marries a privileged white woman whose parents are played by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

For all his success, Poitier never lost touch with his Bahamian heritage. It is something, according to Ingraham, that earned him enduring affection among islanders.

“He was a beacon of hope and was a light who showed that any Bahamian could follow in his footsteps,” he said.

From 1997 to 2007, he was The Bahamas’ ambassador to Japan. Poitier was the country’s ambassador to UNESCO from 2005 to 2010.

Film Credits

Poitier reached out to black audiences in the second half of his career which started in the 1970s. He starred with Harry Belafonte in the western, Buck And The Preacher (1972). In addition, he starred alongside Bill Cosby in three films (Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s do it Again and A Piece of The Action). All of which were well-received in the Caribbean.

Awards

Sidney Poitier received an Honorary Academy Award in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Joanna Shimkus, five daughters  (0ne predeceased him), eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

 

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