Sidney Poitier was a native of Cat Island, Bahamas, although born, two months prematurely, in Miami during a visit by his parents, Evelyn (Outten) and Reginald James Poitier. He grew up in poverty as the son of farmers, with his father also driving a cab in Nassau. Sidney had little formal education and at the age of 15 was sent to Miami to live with his brother, in order to forestall a growing tendency toward delinquency. In the U.S., he experienced the racial chasm that divides the country, a great shock to a boy coming from a society with a majority of African descent.
At 18, he went to New York, did menial jobs, and slept in a bus terminal toilet. A brief stint in the Army as a worker at a veterans' hospital was followed by more menial jobs in Harlem. An impulsive audition at the American Negro Theatre was rejected so forcefully that Poitier dedicated the next six months to overcoming his accent and improving his performing skills. On his second try, he was accepted. Spotted in rehearsal by a casting agent, he won a bit part in the Broadway production of "Lysistrata", for which he earned good reviews. By the end of 1949, he was having to choose between leading roles on stage and an offer to work for Darryl F. Zanuck in the film No Way OutThe Defiant Ones (1958), earning Poitier his first Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Five years later, he won the Oscar for Lilies of the Field (1963), the first African American to win a leading role.