But I start with the great Sidney Poitier because his stardom was an established part of the Freedom movement in 1964, and he was to be the chaperone of my inner awakening that dramatic year.
Indianapolis, my hometown, had some brave marches and two conservative white newspapers, and one historic black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder, which meant that images of the civil rights movement entered our home mostly via television. Riots, Fannie Lou Hamer. Reverend King won the Nobel Peace Prize in the autumn of 1964, and everybody we knew called him Dr. King, at least for a couple of years. One of my sisters was singing “Amen,” the rocking gospel tune that Poitier, as “Schmidt,” the drifter with lost dreams of being an architect, teaches to the East German nuns in Lilies of the Field.
Our television was black-and-white, one of those television-phonograph-radio-in-one models that my mother liked because the wooden cabinet made the console a piece of furniture suitable for the living room. That Lilies of the Field was on TV, a year after its release, was a big deal. The film itself was news. In it, a white man calls Poitier “boy” and Poitier calls him “boy” right back. They “mister” each other by the film’s end. Poitier was the first black actor to win an Academy Award since NAACP member Hattie McDaniel in 1940. My father explained the Sermon on the Mount to me. My two older sisters said they knew it already; I was the one who was the dummy. I was eleven years old. My sisters also knew where the title of Lorraine Hansberry’s play came from. My father explained redlining to us. Poitier had made his name rise even higher in the film of A Raisin in the Sun.