"Island Boy": An Interview with Sir Sidney Poitier
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"Island Boy":
An Interview with Sir Sidney Poitier

This interview was conducted in February 2005, via telephone, between Nassau, Bahamas, and Hollywood, California.

Island Boy, you got ya mind and ya job in New York but ya heart's in the Caribbean
(Well) Island Boy, now when you look at the concrete walls can't ya hear them say
Come back home to the land of the sun and the sea and the balmy beaches

Where your heart has always been since the very first day.

—Eric Minns, "Island Boy"*

CAMPBELL: Sir Sidney, it's such an honor to speak with you. I truly admire your work and your spirit and am especially proud that you hail from Cat Island [in The Bahamas].

POITIER: Thank you.

CAMPBELL: My grandfather, the late James Campbell, was from Arthur's Town and knew your family very well.

POITIER: Yes, I remember James Campbell.

CAMPBELL: Tell me, Sir Sidney, how did your Bahamian broughtupsy shape you into the great man you are today?

POITIER: Well, my knowledge of the world was gathered in Cat Island and Nassau. I learned from how people lived and what constituted a good person then, in Cat Island.

CAMPBELL: Sir Sidney, when I think of what you have achieved, I can only call your life an example of the miracle of human will. There were so many odds against you, yet you did things that no one had ever done before. How did you do it?

POITIER: I never sought to characterize my passion in terms of the odds. If the odds appear to be overwhelming, it would smother your passion. [End Page 482]

CAMPBELL: Racism was one of the greatest barriers. How did you deal with what W.E.B. DuBois called "the problem of the color line"?

POITIER: When I went to Florida for the first time, I was being introduced to an entirely new culture. It was so different from Cat Island and Nassau. Though there was segregation in Nassau—for instance, I could not go to the Nassau Theatre—but the impact of race was not as intense or impressive because there was a majority population of black people. British colonialism required that you train a native constituency to administer rules; the subjects of the British Empire far outnumbered the English themselves. Colonial administration meant that they had to have black policemen.

CAMPBELL: Sir Sidney, a friend of mine attended a funeral a few years ago that you also attended. It was a funeral of your relative, Dr. Jackson Burnside. She remarked that a group of you, Anglican, mainly Cat Island men of your generation, seemed to have the same mannerisms, the same way of speaking, the same pride. The same nobility I see in my grandfather, I see in you both on and off screen.

POITIER: Well, I might be able to see it in your grandfather but I can't really say that about myself.

CAMPBELL: You are a humble man. Well, what about the formation of your identity generally, in The Bahamas?

POITIER: I left Cat Island with a sense of self that did not include color. There were only two white people on the island. One was a doctor and the other was a guy named Farrah.

CAMPBELL: That's right, he was married to a relative of mine, Birdie Farrah. She passed away some years ago.

POITIER: I see. And we had no motorized transport nor paved roads. Until I moved to Nassau, I was raised in a social atmosphere in which 99% of the people were black Bahamians of all shades. There were no forces implying to me that I was more or less a person because of color or shading of color.

CAMPBELL: What about the racism and segregation in Nassau when you were a teenager? What was the difference between the racism in Nassau and the racism in America?

POITIER: Yes, Nassau had segregation colonial-style. And I came to understand the power of white people and how that power served to work against me. When I got to Florida, the segregation there was different. It was not colonial. The Supreme Court in the...