Her season

By Keisha Bell

Who remembers the half-hour situation comedy that aired from 1975 to 1985 named “The Jeffersons?” The show’s setting took place in the Jefferson’s “big league” apartment on the East side of New York City.

Every-so-often Mother Jefferson would visit, delivering her own bag of punch lines. Mother Jefferson is memorable, but who was the woman who played her?

Meet Zara Frances Cully, an actress who lived from January 26, 1892, until February 28, 1978. For over a half-century, she amassed a lengthy list of acting credentials on the stage, in movies, and on television.

In 1966 at the age of 74, she made her television debut in “Run For Your Life.” Almost 10 years later, Cully played the character of Mother Jefferson — her most famous role — from 1975 until her death.

Think about that.

Cully was 83 years old before obtaining her most well-known role on a show that had an 11-year run. She died before its fifth season. You never know when your break will come, or how long you will enjoy it. Everything has its own time and season.

In 1940, Cully became known as one of the world’s greatest elocutionists. This recognition defied stereotypes related to African Americans and diction. Elocution means the ability to speak both clearly and expressively, particularly as it relates to one’s pronunciation and articulation.

Although Cully was born in Worchester, Mass., while she lived in Jacksonville she became known as Florida’s “Dean of Drama.” She was a drama teacher at Edward Waters College, as well as at her own studio for 15 years. It was in Jacksonville where she began producing, directing, writing and acting in a number of plays.

Cully may have remained in Jacksonville if not for the off-putting, then-prevailing social customs in the South. Again, knowing her season, she moved to Hollywood. Her talent literally took her around the country.

Her courage to pursue an opportunity to achieve her fullest potential at a time and in a country where civil rights were overtly being fought is inspiring. When you take into account the totality of the obstacles Cully faced, the idea that she did not give up on what she knew was possible and that she achieved her most popular role at the age of 83 has a deeper meaning.

Keisha Bell

Keisha Bell

At the time of her death, Cully was one of the oldest, active performers in television. In her time, she did what she had to do. She knew her seasons. She maximized her time. She persevered.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant. www.emergingfree.com

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