The Washington Post

Remembering Sherman Hemsley and his portrayal of black church life

View Photo Gallery: Hemsley, best known for playing George Jefferson on the TV sitcoms “The Jeffersons” and “All in the Family” and as Deacon Earnest Frye on “Amen,” has died.

Sherman Hemsley has died. The iconic comedian was most famous for his role as an Upper East side living business man in “The Jeffersons,” but it was his other show — the one that was less edgy, more homey and portrayed an aspect of black life largely invisible in Hollywood — that we must remember. That show, which featured the antics and triumphs of Deacon Ernest J. Frye, was called “Amen.”

Amen removed the cloak and dagger that often surrounds life as Christians. Hemsley showed that just because one is called to the pulpit doesn’t make him any less anointed than the next man. He may dance in the sheets with his lady, get bitten by the green-eyed monster and even ball up his fists to protect the one he loves. In a nutshell, he showed that Christians are still human. They make mistakes, but it’s their attempt to walk the less traveled, and more righteous path that makes them special.

Since Amen aired its last episode in 1991, there have been a few attempts to show black church life once again. The Mary Mary gospel singers have a reality show, and in June TV Land aired the new sitcom “Soul Man” which features Cedric the Entertainer as a preacher. But it’s Deacon Frye who paved the way for these small-screen hits.

Rest in peace, Ernie. Hopefully, you’ve had your last fight with Rolly and are somewhere in heaven doing this:

More content from The RootDC:

Mayor Gray and the tension in D.C.: Should black residents feel collective shame?

International AIDS Conference: Time for black church leaders to break the silence

International AIDS Conference: Continuing the fight

Delece is an education reporter for U.S. News.



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