Cicely Tyson as Miss Jane Pittman.ErnestGainesDies.CBS1974

Ernest J. Gaines has died, an African-American novelist who grew up poor on a plantation in Louisiana, went away to college in California, found modest success with short stories, but felt stymied in his effort to write a book about Black Americans struggling to hold onto their dignity and sense of self prior to the civil rights movement. Then he saw reports of a black man named James Meredith who in 1962 tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Gaines realized he couldn’t finish his novel in a faraway place, he needed to be back home to absorb the atmosphere. His first book, “Catherine Carmier,” was published in 1963 and paved the way for the biggest success of his career, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” about a black woman born in the last days of slavery who lived long enough to see the crumbling of American apartheid. “Miss Jane” was made into a TV movie in 1974, making a star of actress Cicely Tyson, as her character aged from 20 to 100. (CBS Archives)

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