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Harlem Community Remembers Trailblazing Actress, Hometown Icon Cicely Tyson: 'She Made Mainstream Come And Celebrate Harlem'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The Harlem community is among the many remembering trailblazing actress Cicely Tyson, who died Thursday at age 96.

"Cicely Tyson was royalty beyond an icon," Harlem resident Dakota Rivers said.

Tyson was a Harlem jewel, a woman who gave her gift to the world.

MORE: Cicely Tyson, Groundbreaking Award-Winning Actor, Dead At 96

Rivers says that present spoke volumes to those who saw the legendary Harlem actress as a beacon of hope.

"You didn't see us on camera before that, right? I think ['The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman'] was the first thing I ever saw her in, and it was just like, you didn't see Black women on film," Rivers said. "She was like a grandmother that I never met."

But for those who did get to meet her, Tyson was a lot more.

Rev. Calvin Butts got to know Tyson over the last 20 years after she became a member of his church, Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street.

"She was clearly a diva, but a diva with grace," Butts told CBS2's Cory James.

He says she was more than an Oscar, a woman with a great soul and spirit.

Butts told CBS2 he got to witness that just days ago inside his church.

"She was full of life. She looked good. She was chuckling at different things, and she was just a wonderful, wonderful lady," he said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Remembering Groundbreaking Actress Cicely Tyson

Rev. Al Sharpton got to know Tyson when he was a teenager. Through their decades-long relationship, he says he saw a woman who never lost touch with her roots.

"She would not let you talk about Harlem in a negative. She would always say of the high moments and the great artistry and the culture and the people," Sharpton said. "She did not leave Harlem to go mainstream. She made mainstream come and celebrate Harlem ... and her grace and her presence spoke for itself."

"She's now moved from labor to reward. Good to the last drop, she certainly was," Butts said.

"The only thing that would have been worse than losing her is to have never had her in the first place," Sharpton said.

Tributes also poured in online.

New York officials, including public advocate Jumaane Williams and Congressman Jamaal Bowman, reacted on Twitter. Tyson was born and grew up in the city.

Williams tweeted, "ANOTHER...#ICONIC...LEGEND!!!"

Bowman described Tyson as a "pioneer for Black people on the big screen."

Actress Vanessa Williams, who starred in the Broadway play "The Trip to Bountiful" alongside Tyson in 2013, posted, "I'm gutted."

In another post, she wrote, "Sharing the Broadway stage with her 8 shows a week was the true life lesson of witnessing fortitude, power and the Holy Spirit in front of my eyes."

Actor Blair Underwood, who joined Williams and Tyson in the touring production of the play, wrote, "Every night on stage, every day on that set, I was learning at the hands of an absolute master of her craft ... My heart is heavy. Thank you Ms. Tyson for paving the way, thank you for your grace & thank you, Your Majesty for lifting us to higher heights!"

A number of other celebrities who knew her also posted tributes.


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