My initial reaction to the news of Sherman Hemsley’s passing was sadness of course, but immediately following my sadness was reflection. Reflection on his acting talent and the pure entertainment he used to bring into our households every week as our beloved George Jefferson. I am sure there isn’t one person, who after hearing this news, didn’t immediately playback an episode of The Jeffersons in their mind. The Jeffersons had such a strong television presence as it ran from 1975 through 1985. The show is said to be the longest-running sitcom with a predominantly Black cast in the history of American television.
Even as a child this program captured my attention. Although George and Weezy weren’t your typical couple, we were still able to relate to their relationship. Their lives and marriage never seemed too far outside of my realm of reality, and it never felt outside of my reach. George, his slightly racist views aside, always felt like someone I knew; an uncle, other relative or family friend. What I admired most was the relationship George and Weezy shared. On the surface it always appeared as though he was in charge, but just as in most marriages, he was always a softy when it came to his wife. Weezy was always the only one who was able to get him to see things from a different perspective.
Their riches were also realistic and achievable and made sense for an African American family. In fact, as my family just happened to gather Tuesday night, we discussed Hemsley’s death and my brother-in law revealed how he had always wanted to go into the dry cleaning business as a result of the show. Their TV life represented a certain aspect of our lives just as Good Times and The Cosby show had, but went even further. The Jefferson’s didn’t struggle financially (like the Evans), and they were far from perfect (like the Huxtables). From the in-law challenges (with George’s mother disliking Weezy), to the bickering between George and everyone around him there was always a connection to the Black America in which we lived. It was a real representation of what we knew; we were easily able to recognize these characters.
The show also showed us what happens after the family has been raised and goals have been accomplished. It was refreshing to see a seasoned black couple living out their dreams, together.
A quote from Cicely on BMWK’s Facebook page said it best,
“The Jeffersons was my FAVORITE sitcom. A lot of people wanted to live like Heathcliff and Claire Huxtable, I wanted to live like George and Weezy Live-in housekeeper, a doorman, living next to a UN Diplomat in an Upper East Side high-rise. George OWNED seven dry cleaners and Weezy didn’t have to work. She and Helen volunteered at the Help Center. The Jeffersons showed unprecedented prosperity for a married Black couple that NO other show has been able to top since.”
The Jeffersons and the character of George Jefferson was an enormous risk for television at that time, but it’s one, that I am personally happy was taken. TV was never the same.
Sherman Hemsley, we thank you for the laughs and the realness you represented on television and pray that you rest in peace.
BMWK, what were your thoughts of The Jeffersons TV show and its representation of the black family? What were some of your favorite memories of the show?