About those women: Florence Griffith Joyner and Cicely Tyson blazed trails we’re still walking
The first was a track and field phenom and fashion icon while Tyson remains a first lady of film and TV
To close out Women’s History Month, The Undefeated features late track star Florence Griffith Joyner and award-winning actress Cicely Tyson, who both paved the way for black girls and women in the sports and entertainment world.
Florence Griffith Joyner
It was the 1988 Olympics in Seoul when Joyner, known to the world as “Flo Jo,” soared to greatness. With her long, flowing hair, 6-inch nails and colorful one-legged outfits, she charmed America and took home three gold medals.
Griffith Joyner had made her Olympic debut in 1984 at the Summer Games in Los Angeles, where she won a silver medal for the 200 meters. Her world records for the 100- and 200-meter events are still standing.
The “world’s fastest woman” and sister-in-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee sprinkled some serious black girl magic in track and field during the ’80s. According to biography.com, Griffith Joyner had a “range of talents outside the track realm. She excelled in the fields of fashion design, acting, writing, sportscasting as well as being a wife and mother. One of her most impressive achievements was her appointment as co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.”
Born Florence Delorez Griffith on Dec. 21, 1959, in Los Angeles, the Olympian started running at the age of 7. By the time she was 14, she’d won at the Jesse Owens National Youth Games. She was the anchor of the Jordan High School relay team and went on to purse her degree at California State University. She transferred to University of California-Los Angeles, where her legend began emerging as an NCAA champion in the 200 meters in 1982. She was coached by Joyner-Kersee’s husband, Bob Kersee, and later married Joyner-Kersee’s brother, Al Joyner, who also became her coach.
Griffith Joyner retired after the 1988 Olympics among a swirl of controversy in the form of speculation she’d used performance-enhancing drugs, thanks to her outsize success and muscular physique. She never failed a single doping test (11 in 1988 alone) and always maintained that she never used any drugs.
Griffith Joyner was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995. She was named The Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year and Track and Field magazine’s Athlete of the Year. Griffith Joyner died unexpectedly of an epileptic seizure on Sept. 21, 1998, at her home in Mission Viejo, California, at the shockingly young age of 38. But her undefeated spirit and swagger live on.
Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson has been delivering heart-fluttering performances in film and on stage for decades. The 92-year-old, Harlem-born nonagenarian was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine more than six decades ago.
In 1957, she began acting in off-Broadway productions. She had small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Four years later, Tyson was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress for her sensational performance in the critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), which earned her two Emmy Awards. She also appeared in the television miniseries Roots (1977), King (1978) and A Woman Called Moses (1978). While Tyson has not appeared steadily onscreen because of her vow to only portray strong, positive images of black women, she is without a doubt one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen.
Tyson has recurring roles in two of television’s top-rated shows: ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, as the mother of Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), and the Netflix drama House of Cards. Last year, she starred in the Broadway hit play The Gin Game alongside James Earl Jones.
Tyson has appeared in several Tyler Perry films, as she continues to stay true to her craft. During her career, she has been nominated for 12 Emmys, winning three. In 2011, she appeared in the film The Help.