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  • Mikelle Drew

28 Days of Black Fashion History: Cicely Tyson


You’re probably familiar with her as an activist and actress, but what you might not know is that Cicely Tyson started her career as a fashion model. Which makes sense because the woman has incredible style!


Ok, actually, in all fairness, her first job was a secretary for the Red Cross, but she was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine. She attended Barbara Mae Watson’s modeling school, the first of its kind in the US (a modeling school for African Americans) as she put it "just to keep her friend company". And within a year, she became one of the top Black models globally, earning $65/week at her peak (which was big money in the 1950s.)


Cicely Tyson poses for a portrait, circa 1960.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)


Tyson appears on the cover and inside Ebony magazine, December 1962.


At Heathrow Airport, London, UK, February 18, 1973.

(Photo by George Stroud/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


As a Black woman, hair can tell a story, and Tyson made several memorable hair choices, all for the sake of authenticating the characters she played. But at its height, Tyson became the face of the Black is Beautiful movement, gracing the covers of Ebony, Jet and Essence magazines with her short afro, cornrows or braids that boldly made a statement.


Here, she talks about how she inspired the natural hair movement.