In January of 1943, 15-year-old Sidney Poitier left his poverty-stricken family in Nassau and headed for the United States, the “land of opportunity,” in search of a better life for himself and, ultimately, his loved ones. Months of low-paying jobs in Miami followed, and then countless nights sleeping rough as he slowly made his way to Harlem. Once there, still only 16 and unable to find a job to keep him afloat, he lied about his age and joined the U. S. Army, from which he was discharged after a year. Very quickly his money was gone and he was ready to give up. Desperate to return home but unable to scrape together enough money with which to buy a ticket, he wrote the following letter to President Roosevelt and asked for a loan.
No reply came. He soon joined the American Negro Theater and slowly made an impression as an actor. In 1963, 18 years after writing to President Roosevelt, Sidney Poitier became the first black person to win a Best Actor Oscar, for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.
Dear President Roosevelt,
My name is Sidney Poitier and I am here in the United States in New York City. I am from the Bahamas. I would like to go back to the Bahamas but I don’t have the money. I would like to borrow from you $100. I will send it back to you when I get to the Bahamas. I miss my mother and father and I miss my brothers and sisters and I miss my home in the Caribbean. I cannot seem to get myself organized properly here in America, especially in the cold weather, and I am therefore asking you as an American citizen if you will loan me $100 to get back home. I will send it back to you and I would certainly appreciate it very much.Your fellow American,Sidney Poitier