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Legendary Bahamian-American actor, Sidney Poitier (1927-2022), was in kinship care as a teenager. 

Sidney Poitier was born in Miami, Florida. His parents, Evelyn and Reginald Poitier, were visiting Miami at the time, but they lived on Cat Island in the Bahamas (then a British colony) where they grew produce. Sidney, the youngest of seven surviving children, lived on Cat Island until he was ten years old. The family then moved to Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, as it was increasingly difficult to make a living on Cat Island. 

In Nassau, Reginald struggled to provide for his family; it was Evelyn who kept the family afloat, taking in washing and ironing. Sidney finally went to school on a regular basis in Naussau, but by the time he was thirteen he had quit and headed out to work. He regularly stole and on one occasion was imprisoned overnight because he could not raise bail. 

After Sidney’s best friend, Yorick Rolle, was caught and sent to a reform school for stealing a bicycle, Sidney’s family sent him to the United States to live with Cyril, the oldest brother.  

Sidney left in January 1943. The day of his departure, Evelyn stayed home. Tears welled in her eyes as she fastened the buttons on his shirt. Gently, she touched his face. Without a word she guided him out the door, and Sidney and his father walked to the pier… Reginald stuffed the remaining three dollars into his son’s hands. “Take care of yourself, son,” he said. An ambivalent Sidney – troubled to leave his friends, family, and girlfriend but excited for the opportunities in Miami – boarded the ship (Haddad et al). 

In Miami, Sidney’s brother Cyril took the boy to stay with Uncle Joe and Aunt Eva. Missing his Bahamian family and wanting to get away from the intimidation of blacks in Miami, eventually Sidney headed north. 

Harlem had enticed Sidney since childhood. He paid $11.35 in bus fare. It was the spring of 1943, and a sixteen-year-old solitary immigrant with minimal education, stubborn pride, and a little luck was on his way to New York City (Haddad et al). 

In New York, the boy worked as a dishwasher, enlisted in the Army, and joined the American Negro Theater. By 1949 he was able to choose between leading stage roles and he received his first offer to perform in a film in 1950. 

Poitier’s first credited film role was Dr. Luther Brooks, a Black doctor who treats a bigoted white criminal, in No Way Out (1950). The movie established a significant pattern both for Poitier himself and for the Black actors who followed him: by refusing roles that played to racial stereotypes, Poitier pushed the restrictive boundaries set by Hollywood and made inroads into the American mainstream (Barson).

In 1963 Sidney Poitier received an Academy Award for Best Actor – the first Black actor to do so – for Lilies of the Field and by 1967 he was a popular actor appearing in successful films such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; To Sir, with Love; and In the Heat of the Night 

He became the screen symbol of a morally righteous political movement. Poitier proved that large audiences would attend pictures featuring a black person as something other than an asinine servant or happy-go-lucky entertainer. His success paved the way for contemporary black actors and filmmakers (Haddad et al).

Sidney Poitier directed (and performed in) his first film in 1972. Buck and the Preacher was a western and was followed by A Warm December (1973), but neither film was successful. Poitier did better with the comedy Uptown Saturday Night (1974). He continued directing but not acting during the 1980s, and then returned to acting only from 1988. His final performance was in the television film, The Last Brickmaker in America (2001) in which he plays a man who has lost his wife and is losing his job.

Sidney Poitier served as ambassador to Japan for The Bahamas from 1997 and 2007.

In 2001, Sidney Poiter received an honorary Academy Award for his achievements, and in 2009 the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

On August 2022, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced it was naming its lobby the Sidney Poitier Grand Lobby.


Barson, Michael. “Sidney Poitier. Bahamanian American actor.” Britannica.

Haddad, Wassim, Chellaboina, Vijay & Nersevov, Sergey. Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. The University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 

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