Yesterday, we lost a great entertainer: Sherman Hemsley. Although he went on to play other successful TV roles, his most famous and beloved is that of George Jefferson of the hit sitcom, “The Jeffersons,” alongside the late great TV veteran, Isabel Sanford.

It’s not such a big deal now to turn on the TV and see a black man portrayed as a wealthy businessman, but back in the ‘70s, a character like George Jefferson was an anomaly.

With “The Jeffersons,” a spin-off of “All in the Family,” where  George and Louise Jefferson were the working-class neighbors of the bigoted Archie Bunker, producer Norman Lear churned yet another hit out of his sit-com factory.The opposite of “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons” told the rarely-relayed story of a black family business that afforded its owners the chance to move out of the old neighborhood, not just to a nice home in the suburbs, but to a DE-luxe apartment in the sky!

It’s funny; I was just having a conversation with a co-worker after the show yesterday about what I didn’t like about the message today’s rappers send to young people when they brag about owning private jets, Lamborghinis and yachts. I’m all for working hard and being on the come-up (You know that), but I’d like to see these paid hip-hop stars brag more about things that are more attainable for the average kid with a dream.

“The Jeffersons,” along with being hilarious, gave poor and middle-class African-Americans a chance to see Black people living a lifestyle that most had never witnessed unless they were employed in the service industry. For some, it was the first time they could see themselves not as maids or as doormen, but as actual occupants of a big-city high rise. The best part of all, George Jefferson wasn’t embarrassed of his wealth and success; he earned it and owned it. His proud strut is an indelible memory in the minds of anyone who ever tuned in, along with his trademark George-isms,  like “Honnnnky,” “zebra couples” and his personal nickname for his TV wife, Weezie.

When I give the charge at HBCU commencement ceremonies, I often urge students to upgrade their current environments, even if it means moving out of the ‘hood. I think it’s okay to physically leave a situation but still value it, support it and love it. If your barber, your beautician, your favorite restaurant and only dry cleaner you trust is in the community where you grew up, there’s nothing wrong with driving across town to handle your business. That’s sort of the lesson George Jefferson taught a lot of folks. George never forgot where he came from and never was ashamed of letting others know either.

Some of the critics thought he was too over-the-top, too cartoonish, even “coonish.” I never let other people tell me what I should or shouldn’t be offended by. “The Jeffersons” was a comedy and a fictionalized look at a black family — we get that. But I can’t help but think there are a lot of successful black people out there who were made to believe they could work hard, work together as a family and have a better life because of George and Weezie.

If you’re one of them, I’d like to hear from you.

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14 thoughts on “Movin’ on Up

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  6. KJulian on said:

    Sherman Hensley will definitely be missed be many especially within the Black community. He brought to the screen a certain amount of confidence within his character which I believe gave a lot of others a since of we can do it too. We as a people still have a long way to go but there are more Black entrepreneurs now then ever before. We need more people to play and display such a character on today’s tv.

  7. Chris40 on said:

    Yeah, I’m gon miss ol’ George (I mean Sherman Hensley lol) I was shocked to find out the that during the show, Weezie (Isabel Sanford) was 20 years older than Sherman. I thought they where the same age.

  8. Fancydancer on said:

    I really enjoyed their relationship! George was a loud-mouth, but he truly loved his family and friends. He worked hard to move to a “deluxe apartment in the sky!” I can’t believe that Florence (Marla Gibbs) is the only 1 left…..I hope she does more comedic acting before she makes her transition because she is great with George or Sandra! Rest in peace Sherman Hensley, you are truly missed!

  9. NetteisaPeach on said:

    The Jefferson’s was one of the positive sitcoms. Growing up my mother was very selective about what we could watch. We were not allowed to watch Good Times due to the character JJ… George was proud of his accomplishments and he worked for them.

  10. rafree on said:

    Tom i LOVED the Jeffersons. George was my favorite only because of his chemistry with the other cast members. I loved how he strutted. I loved how he would check Florence and she would check him right back. Weezie had him under control with a tenderness i really appreciated. I remember when Weezie told George “nigga pleeesee!!”

  11. Fancydancer on said:

    Wow, now we have lost Sherman Hemsley (my tv daddy)! I feel like my own father just died again! George reminded me of my working class father, who worked hard for all that he had.”The Jeffersons” is a classic sitcom that should be required viewing by all. Like “All in the Family”, “The Jeffersons” showed a truer picture of family life in the ’70’s. Families working hard and trying to move up in their situations. The comedy put much of the bigotry in our nation on blast! Geerge would tell it like it is. Much Respect and Rest in peace.

  12. therealwithdarylanddevon on said:

    George Jefferson was one of the most iconic characters in television history. The hit comedy “The Jeffersons“, which was a spin-off of the CBS classic “All In The Family” became legendary in its own right. Like “Frasier”, which actually matched parent show “Cheers“, in terms of seasons=11, this great show left its own legacy. That legacy united the colors of the human spirit with cutting-edge comedic genius. “Well we’re movin up up, To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.” Sherman Hemsley & “George Jefferson” are smiling down along with “Weesy”, “Lionel”, ”Bentley”, “Ralph”, and “Tom&Helen Willis“

    -Daryl- from

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