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Season 3, Episode 57

Blog explores working class roots of esteemed actor Sidney Poitier

Working-Class Perspectives


Guest Name:

Kathy Newman

Guest Website:


Guest Social Media:

Twitter (Personal)

Supportive Documents:

Kathy Newman, a Professor of Literary and Cultural studies for Carnegie Mellon University, joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast and discussed “Sidney Poitier: Nobody You Can Boss Around,” a blog she recently published on Working Class Perspectives, which highlights the working class roots of the actor.

Newman described Poitier’s humble origins growing up as the son of tomato farmers in the Bahamas. His parents traveled by boat to work tomato fields in Miami, and his mother gave birth to him on one of these trips, which made Poitier an American citizen.

As a teenager, Poitier came to the U.S. to live with extended family. He eventually moved to New York City and worked odd jobs as a dishwasher, butcher’s assistant, drugstore clerk, construction worker, porter and longshoreman. Eventually, he responded to an “Actors Wanted” ad in a newspaper that appeared alongside job postings for dishwashers and janitors. Portier auditioned numerous times for the American Negro Theater company and was rejected, but he got a job with the company as a janitor. Eventually he worked his way into acting and launched his career.

Once Portier became successful, he was known for playing roles of middle class characters dressed in sharp suits. However, in many of his early roles, he portrayed working class characters in simple white t-shirts, Newman said. It was in these early roles that he paid homage to his working class roots, which were the foundation of his career, she added.

Listen to the entire episode to learn more about the working class roots of Sidney Poitier:

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