March 10, 2022

Who was Zara Cully AKA Mother Jefferson from the TV Sitcom, 'The Jeffersons'?

Zara Cully

The 1970s were times of great opportunity for black actors and actresses. After the burning success of shows like Good Times and Sanford and Son, a door was opened to create sitcoms that would not only feature but spotlight black Americans and their families. Diversity had reached a new potential for aspiring actors who would later be the stars of shows like Diff'rent Strokes, Benson, and a true classic: The Jeffersons.

The Jeffersons was a spin-off series of a sitcom starring a white cast of members, titled All in the Family. This spin-off would be transformative both to the black family it showcased and to future black-led series. But one actress that reached the hearts of many in her role as "Mother Jefferson" was Zara Cully.

Cully was born in 1892 in Worcester, Massachusetts. She grew up in a large family, along with a great population of African Americans in the area. She soon became a graduate of the Worcester School of Speech and Music and focused her talents on acting. She then spent fifteen years teaching her craft at Edward Waters College, as well as producing her own plays.

The height of her career wasn't fully achieved until 1974 when her debut as Mother Jefferson made the airways in All in the Family. Much love was shown for her character, soon allotting her a recurring spot in The Jeffersons. She would go on to play her beloved character for only a few short years until her death in 1978.