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THROUGHOUT her 20-year Hollywood career, Jamaican actress Madge Sinclair never lost sight of her Caribbean identity. It was a similarity she shared with a famous cousin, pan-African giant Marcus Garvey.

Sinclair, who died in December 1995 at age 57, was one of three persons honoured last Friday by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the organisation Garvey established in 1914.

Top: Gary Sinclair receives award on behalf of his mother. Bottom: Madge Sinclair and Eddie Murphy in a scene from the 1988 comedy film Coming to America.

Sinclair was the recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award, which was accepted by her son Garry Sinclair at Devon House in St Andrew.

“I grew up in a home in which I was constantly reminded that I was Marcus Garvey’s fourth cousin. She would have definitely appreciated this award,” Sinclair, the older of the actress’s two sons, told the Jamaica Observer.

Madge Sinclair was born in Kingston but had roots in St Ann (where Garvey was born) and Manchester. Her paternal great-grandmother was the sister of Garvey’s father.

After moving to New York City in the late 1960s, Garry Sinclair said his mother was inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the United States. He noted, however, that she was never a militant.

“She was more Caribbean-centric. She always tried to give her Caribbean roots as much exposure as possible,” Sinclair said.

That could not have been more evident than in her role as nurse Ernestine Shoop in the hit 1980s television series, Trapper John MD, which starred Pernell Roberts of Bonanza fame. Her character was distinctly West Indian.

“She never dropped her accent and the producers liked that. It brought something different to the show,” he said.

Madge Sinclair emerged during the 1970s when quality roles for black actresses in Hollywood were rare. She was among a batch of actresses with Caribbean heritage, others being Sheryl Lee Ralph whose mother is Jamaican, and Cicely Tyson whose parents are from St Kitts and Nevis.

Sinclair gradually landed strong parts in projects like Roots, the groundbreaking 1977 mini-series by Alex Haley.

Sinclair earned an Emmy nomination for her role as Bell Reynolds in Roots.

Madge Sinclair

Her appearance in Roots earned Sinclair a strong part in Convoy, a 1978 film which starred Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw. Later, she starred as James Earl Jones’ wife and Eddie Murphy’s mother in the hit 1988 movie, Coming to America.

Madge Sinclair died of leukaemia in Los Angeles. She was cremated in Jamaica.


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