Remembering George Jefferson, Television Icon

An obituary of legendary television charcther George Jefferson after the death of actor Sherman Hemsley who portrayed him on the T.V. series, ‘The Jeffersons’

Sherman Hemsley

By Jermaine Spradley for

George Jefferson, entrepreneur, pillar of the Upper East Side community and legendary example of black American financial ascendency has died.

George Jefferson was born in Harlem in 1929. Having lost his father at the tender age of ten-years-old, George was forced to drop out of high school and take care of his mother. He left home to serve in the U.S. Navy as a cook during the Korean War and upon returning to Harlem, promptly married his longtime sweetheart, Louise (affectionately known as Weezy). While making his career as a janitor and living with his wife in a rundown Harlem apartment, George used his entrepreneurial spirit, and $3200.00 gained from an insurance claim after a car accident to start Jefferson’s Cleaners — the business that facilitated his moving on up to the east side of Manhattan.

George spent much of the 1970’s working through the anger and frustration many black men felt, having had to spend most of their lives fighting against the direct, overt racism prevalent in this country during the first half of the century. That anger often expressed itself through hilariously bigoted tirades and harebrained get-rich-quick schemes. It also showed itself in his frequent arguments with his white neighbors; firstly, the equally bigoted, Archie Bunker; and then later, Tom Willis. Over time, as he grew closer to his maid Florence, his stance on race evolved — to the point that he eventually considered Tom one of his closest friends. And as his wealth grew, George set his sights on more; he expanded his dry cleaning empire and even considered buying a posh home in Bel Air… from none other than Phillip and Vivian Banks.

But George Jefferson was a New Yorker through and through and so there he remained until his last days. In death he joins his beloved wife Louise, his son, Lionel, Mother Jefferson, his neighbors, Helen and Tom Willis, and Harry Bentley.

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