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Thomas Jefferson Byrd (1950–2020), actor known for Spike Lee films

by Linnea Crowther

Thomas Jefferson Byrd was an actor known for roles in Spike Lee films including “Clockers” and “Get on the Bus.”

Film and stage career

Byrd worked with Lee in a number of the acclaimed director’s films, beginning with 1995’s “Clockers,” in which he played a drug lord’s enforcer. Byrd would return to the big screen in Lee’s “Girl 6” (1996), “Get on the Bus” (1996), “He Got Game” (1998), “Bamboozled” (2000), “Red Hook Summer” (2012), “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” (2014) and “Chi-Raq” (2015). He also had a recurring role as Stokely in Lee’s 2017 Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It.” Byrd appeared in movies for other directors including “Set it Off” (1996), “Ray” (2004), and “Freedom’s Path” (2020), which will be released posthumously. He had guest roles in TV shows including “Living Single” (1997) and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (2004). In 2003, Byrd was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance as Toledo in the Broadway revival of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Byrd on the importance of representation

“We as African-American people take serious issue with how we’re portrayed, because that big screen is very powerful. You see this guy, and he’s a minimal person; he’s minimal. I take serious issue with that, because of how I’m being represented, how my children will be represented, how my grandparents were represented.” —from a 2011 video interview

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Tributes to Thomas Jefferson Byrd

Full obituary: The New York Times

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