Sunday nights as a teenager was spent watching “The Jeffersons” on CBS. The show premiered in 1975 and lasted 11 seasons. But never, until a few short years ago, did I know that the actress that played Mother Jefferson was born and raised in the same town as me.
Zara Frances Cully was born on 26 Jan 1892 to Nora Gilliam and Ambrose Cully both originally from North Carolina. Zara was the second of at least 9 children including younger brother Wendell. Wendell Cully grew to be a talented jazz trumpeter. Zara studied elocution and music before graduating from school in Worcester. At 22 years of age in 1914, Zara married James Brown, Jr from Jacksonville, Fl.
The couple moved to Florida where Zara enjoyed a career in the dramatic arts – even teaching at a historically Black college in Jacksonville. Tired of Jim Crow, the family moved to Hollywood. Zara worked in theater as well as television and the movies. She had acquired an impressive list of credits when she guest-starred in 1974 on “All in the Family” as Mother Jefferson, the outspoken mother to George Jefferson who was Archie Bunker’s neighbor. She continued her role as Mother Jefferson in the spin-off sitcom “The Jeffersons” until her death on 28 February 1978.