In Memoriam: Sherman Hemsley and the Legacy of George Jefferson

July 25, 2012  |  

Sad news: Sherman Hemsley, the actor best known for playing the lead character, George Jefferson, on the hit TV show The Jeffersons, has died at the age of 74. Hemsley was also the star of the show Amen, playing the deacon of a Baptist church in Philadelphia, and began his career on the Broadway and off-Broadway stage. But it was George Jefferson that made him famous.

Over on the TIME website, Touré makes the case for the importance of this character to television history and for the portrayal of African Americans in pop culture. Funny jokes and smooth dance moves aside, George Jefferson painted a new and modern picture for the 1970s viewer — a wealthy black man living in the fancy part of town with his lovely wife, handsome son, a live-in maid, and a menagerie of interesting and diverse neighbors.

“…George was a seminal character, representative of upwardly mobile blacks in the midst of the affirmative action-powered 1970s,” Touré writes.

“Where James Evans of Good Times was humbled by his work life and just barely keeping his head above water, making it any way that he could, Jefferson was a shining member of the black upper-middle class who stuck out his chest and peacocked around his pretty high-rise: one of those who’d finally gotten a piece of the pie,” he continues.

Underneath the humor, there was a wonderful, radical story being told. Thanks, Sherman Hemsley, for bringing us this character. Read the rest of Touré’s column here.

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