The Measure of a Man
by Sidney Poitier
HarperSanFrancisco; Reprint edition (January 2007)
Reviewed by Roxana Currie, June 1, 2007
I grew up watching the channel 13 movies after lunch during the summer just like the rest of you did. You remember. They were on after Floppy. I didn't know that Sidney Poitier was an unusual actor. It never occurred to me that his movies were making history.
I picked up Mr. Poitie's autobiography, his second, labeled "a spiritual autobiography" after I'd heard him talk about it on Oprah. He explains in the book's intro that he’d already written one about his life, mostly his life in the movies. He was driven in later years to write another, "about life. Just life itself," he explains, "what I’ve learned by living more than 70 years of it." I'm glad he did. He is a very careful and thoughtful writer, choosing words that express exactly the thought or emotion he wants to communicate. And his life is much more interesting than just the sum of his movies.
Poitier was born on a Caribbean Island, Cat Island, and lived there until the age of 10, when he moved to Nassau. What an exotic beginning! But the book's focus is not on the exotic, but the "normal" and how the beginnings shaped the future. For one thing, "normal" for Cat Island did not prepare him for Nassau, nor did Nassau prepare him for Miami. By his own account, it was a good thing he had a secure sense of who he was before he landed in the southern United States. Poitier chronicles a rough beginning to life in the states with neither anger nor bitterness, but with clear insight into how those early experiences shaped not only his career but his point of view and his person.
When the black culture looked for Utopia in those pre-civil rights movement days, Utopia had only one name. Harlem. Poitier left Miami and headed north to the place where his dreams might have a chance of coming true. One thing he’d never encountered before was winter. One thing he hadn't mastered yet was reading. "I would be two years before I wondered into the American Negro Theater, and they were two indispensable years," Poitier writes. "It's the way of all ancient stories. The young man must go 'down' in order to find the right path for going 'up.'" Those short sentences capture the flavor of the book, the philosophical musings of a man of years, but not pointless or random musings. These are Sidney Poitier's musings about life, his life and ours as they ran alongside each other in the 60's and 70's, times of change for us all.