Thursday, 20 February 2014

Black History Month: Good Times.

It was the 1970s. It one the Golden age of Black TV. In no time, before or since, with the exception of the 1980s, African Americans from all walks of life entered into American living rooms. Amoung them, my personal favorite, Good Times.
Good Times was the story of James and Florida Evans and their three teenage children, an 1974 Walton family, living in the Projects.
 The series starred the late Esther Rolle as Florida Evans and the late John Amos  her husband, James Evans Sr.
We first meet Florida in the sitcom Maude, the housekeeper of Maude Findlay, in Tuckahoe, New York. Her husband, then known as Henry Evans was employed as a firefighter. Florida's character was so popular, the show's  producers decided to feature the Florida character in her own show.
But there would be several changes to the Evans family history. Henry's name would become James, there is no mention of Maude Findlay, and the couple now live in Chicago.
Florida and James Evans and their three children live in a rented project apartment, 17C, at 963 N. Gilbert Ave., in a housing project in a poor, black neighborhood in inner-city Chicago. A life known to many of the show's fans.
 Florida's and James's children were James Jr, better known as "J.J." Thelma and Michael. When the , J.J. and Thelma are about a year apart in age, seventeen and sixteen years old, respectively, while Michael, called "the militant midget" by his father due to his passionate for his "people's rights" is eleven years old. Florida's best friend is the lively, exuberant Willora Woods, a divorcĂ©e who works at a local boutique. A few years later, Willora later go on to adopt an abused child, Penny (played by Janet Jackson)
As was the case on other Norman Lear sitcoms, Good Times was   a breakthrough for American television. Never before had a weekly series featured black characters living in an city setting.
 Good Times deal with the Evans family attempts to survive in a high rise project building in Chicago, despite their poverty. When he is not unemployed, James Evans is a man of pride who often stated he would not accept charity. He usually works at least two jobs simultaneously, from a wide variety such as dishwasher, construction laborer, etc. When he has to, he plays pool in order to hustle money, though Florida, a righteous woman, disapproves of this. JJ, a budding artist, "finds" (steals) his art supplies, something his parents do not approve of. Thelma, as smart as she is beautiful, tries her hand at several fields as she seeks her life path. Whereas Michal is headed for the Supreme Court as the nation's first black Supreme Court Judge.
I could relate to the Evans family; a strong mother who booked no nonsense. Like JJ, I painted and dreamed of seeing my painting admired by the world. Like Thelma, I love music, books dance and writing. Like Michael, I had to make do with a sub-standard education, with second hand, dated books that made me seek more.
The show dealt with serious topics, such as drugs, gangs, education and race, in a comedic way, while along the was providing positive characters for viewers. Sadly, many a project home, there is no father, and James role as a strong, firm, yet loving husband and father was showcased almost weekly until John Amos's character was killed off in a car accident. Then Florida, stepped up to the plate as a single mum, carrying that weigh too many single mothers know.
While the show was to really to showcase the talents of Esther Rolle and John Amos, the character that quickly over shadowed was JJ Evans. As the series progressed, Ms. Rolle and  Mr. Amos grew increasingly disillusioned with the direction the show was taking, especially with J.J.'s antics and stereotypically buffoonish behavior in the storylines. By season three, Good Times became the JJ Evans show.
But with his father's death, JJ began to grow up and become the man his father knew he really was. By the end of the run, Florida had remarried, but was widowed once more. Willora Woods had gone a much better job and was moving out of the projects. JJ also was leaving, his comic character, based on his little sister was a success and he too was moving out. Michael, now in college was ready to experience college life. And Thelma, now married, expecting her first child was moving out as well, offering for Florida to move in with her and her husband. Turns out that Thelma's husband has brought a Condo, in the same building as Willora, so the women remain neighours.
I taped the last season and still have it, for it was my favorite. Yes, the Evans handled their state with grace, class and laugher. But with hope. Hope that their lives would one day improve. James Evans dreamed of moving his family out of the projects.
And while he could only witness that dream come true from TV heaven, The Evans dream is a dream many Americans also share in.

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