Who can forget Clair Huxtable’s radiant smile and infectious charm? Can you still remember Vivian Banks and her smooth, mahogany skin and sharp intellect? Will we ever witness a more steadfast and loving TV mom than Florida Evans? These fictional characters embodied the essential qualities that every matriarch should possess. They remind us of the invaluable role that women play in the development and success of their offspring.
As Mother’s Day approaches, millions of people will soon experience a rush of emotion and nostalgia as they spend quality time with (or recall memories of) the women who gave them life, love and guidance.
These memories will probably include evenings by the fire, camped around the family television set, wrestling over a single bowl of popcorn and Jujubes.
Before the advent of cell phones, laptops and social media, it was common in many households for everyone to gather in one room and enjoy clean, wholesome entertainment. If you were White, chances are you watched shows like “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of Life,” or “Growing Pains.”
If you were part of a Black family, then it’s likely you preferred sitcoms like “Good Times,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” or if you were born in the 1950 and 60s, you may remember watching actress Diahann Carroll portray a widowed nurse and single mother on NBC’s groundbreaking TV series “Julia.”
The show ran for 86 episodes and was the first to depict an African American woman in a non-stereotypical role. This notable achievement opened doors for other talented performers to play the family matriarch in many of the programs that we’ve all come to know and treasure. In honor of the upcoming holiday, Our Weekly has compiled a multi-generational list of the most beloved, Black TV moms.
1. Diahann Carroll (Julia, 1960s)
In “Julia,” Carroll played widowed single mother Julia Baker who was a nurse in a doctor’s office at a large aerospace company. Julia’s 9-year-old son, Corey, had barely known his father before he died.
Previous television series featured African American leads, but the characters were usually servants. Caroll’s role was a departure from the status quo in Hollywood for women of color during that period in time.
Though Julia is now remembered as being groundbreaking, during its run it was derided by critics for being apolitical and unrealistic. Carroll herself remarked in 1968, “At the moment we’re presenting the White Negro. And he has very little Negroness.”
The Saturday Review’s Robert Lewis Shayon wrote that Julia’s “plush, suburban setting” was “a far, far cry from the bitter realities of Negro life in the urban ghetto, the pit of America’s explosion potential.”
Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” refers to Julia in the same breath as Bullwinkle, implying that her character was something of a cartoon.
Ebony published a somewhat more supportive assessment of the program, writing: “As a slice of Black America, Julia does not explode on the TV screen with the impact of a ghetto riot. It is not that kind of show. Since the networks have had a rash of shows dealing with the nation’s racial problems, the light-hearted Julia provides welcome relief, if, indeed, relief is even acceptable in these troubled times.”