Roscoe Lee Browne died this weekend in Los Angeles at the age of 81. He was a role model for me.
I think everyone's first reaction to Roscoe Lee Browne was "who does he think he is?". And the more you watch him, the more transfixed you become and then you start doubting yourself for doubting him. As a young man I was always told that every black actor was always more dignified in person than they could ever be allowed to be on the screen. To think that Browne could possibly be more dignified than he appeared on television seemed incredible, it made everything he did even that more impressive.
I've only seen him in the past several years in his role in 'Black Like Me'. He played according to form, something of a stereotype of himself, an 'overeducated' black man in the American South. His voice, his diction were true to form. He was in that very classic way, an actor. Pronounce the long 'o' in the word actor.
Recently, hanging out with relatives the conversation ran to alumni of Lincoln University, where my father first went to study physics. I learned that Browne was an audacious character. He was a quite the track star and ladies' man, I was told. It seemed hard to reconcile Browne cutting such a figure, but that he was. And so I remember him as a man audacious enough to defy those expectations of him, to imbue with unforgettable and undeniable dignity and presence, the small shell of a black actor in 20th century America.