They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Howard Rollins Jr., Best Known for His Starring Role on “In Heat of the Night”

Written by Jae Jones

Jr. was best known for his role on “In The Heat of the Night” as Virgil Tibbs. The show was drawn on the 1967 film starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger.  Rollins was born in Baltimore, Maryland and was the youngest child of four children. His father was a steel worker and mother a domestic worker. At the age of 17, he attending a casting call, where he won a role to appear in “Of Mice and Men.” After that first role, things began to fall into place for him with his acting career.


Rollins big break came when director Milos Forman wanted to cast him in the 1981 film “Ragtime.” He was casted in the show as Coalhouse Walker Jr. “Ragtime” includes a powerful storyline about a talented pianist who is the victim of racism, demands justice from the legal system and receives none, and ultimately desperately turns to retaliation. Rollins was known for taking roles that dealt with racism.

In 1984, he played the lead role of Captain Richard Davenport in “A Soldier’s Story,” a film drawn on the Pulitzer-Prize winning play written by Charles Fuller and originally produced in New York City in 1981 by the famed Negro Ensemble Company. Rollins co-starred in the show “In the Heat of the Night,” along with Carroll O’Connor, racism presented itself on set, and down in the south where the show was being filmed. Rollins struggled with the treatment, and began to get into trouble because of drug use. Ultimately, he was written out the show. Later, Rollins tried to redeem his career after run-ins with the law. Unfortunately, Rollins died in 1996 from complications associated with lymphoma.




Please share this piece of black history with your friends on Facebook.

Leave Your Thoughts Below!

About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

Leave a Comment

Rewinding To Remember