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Beah Richards was born Beulah Richardson (July 12, 1920) in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
She was a poet, playwright, author, and an actress of stage, screen and television. 
Her mother was a seamstress and PTA advocate and her father was a Baptist minister.
In 1948, Beah graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and two years later
moved to New York City. Her career started to take off in 1955 when she portrayed an
eighty-four-year-old-grandmother in the off-Broadway show Take a Giant Step.
She often played the role of a mother or grandmother, and continued acting her entire life.
She appeared in the original Broadway productions of Purlie VictoriousThe Miracle Worker,
and A Raisin in the Sun.

Richards was nominated for a Tony award for her 1965 performance in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. She received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Sidney Poitier's mother in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Other notable movie performances include Hurry SundownThe Great White HopeBeloved and In the Heat of the Night.

She made numerous guest television appearances including recurrent roles on The Bill Cosby Show, Sanford and Son, Designing Women, The Practice, The Big Valley and ER (as Dr. Peter Benton's mother.) She was the winner of two Emmy Awards, one in 1988 for her appearance on the series Frank's Place, and another in 2000 for her appearance on The Practice.

In the last year of her life, Richards was the subject of a documentary created by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton. The documentary Beah: A Black Woman Speaks was created from over 70 hours of their conversations. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Film Festival.

​"There are a lot of movies out there that I would hate to be paid to do, some real demeaning, real woman-denigrating stuff. It is up to women to change their roles. They are going to have to write the stuff and do it. And they will."

– Beah Richards