George Jefferson was a local dry cleaner, owner of Jefferson Cleaners, the husband of Louise Jefferson (Edith's best friend) and the Bunkers' next door neighbor in the early episodes of All in the Family, and chief nemesis of Archie in seasons 4-5. Introduced to television audiences in the series fourth season in the episode titled "Henry's Farewell", and played by theatre actor Sherman Hemsley, George and the rest of the Jeffersons, with the exception of Henry, were spun-off into a new series during the 1974-75 season titled The Jeffersons, which itself would enjoy a long run on CBS, lasting for eleven seasons.
George Jefferson was born in Harlem in 1929, an ambitious African-American entrepreneur who started and managed a successful chain of seven dry cleaning stores in New York City. The only background on the Jefferson family is that they were Alabama sharecroppers. In a very early episode, George's wife Louise makes mention of a conversation she had with George's father after she and George were married about the Jeffersons' family roots. However, the show's writers later applied a retroactive change in the continuity of George's father, such that he had died when George was 10 years old. This left George to take care of his mother; therefore, George was unable to complete high school. He was a cook in the United States Navy during the Korean War. He began dating Louise when they were teenagers and married her upon his discharge from the navy.
Before the Jeffersons' store opening, the family lived in a derelict section of Harlem. George had worked as a janitor, and Louise as a housekeeper. In one episode Louise says that the building's white janitor was properly referred to as a "custodian". George says: "Well, whenever a man of our race has that job, he is a janitor!"
George's brother Henry appeared in All in the Family during the lead-up to the spin-off of The Jeffersons. That character was created only because Sherman Hemsley was starring in the Broadway theatre musical Purlie and not yet available to take on the part of George. Once Hemsley became available and joined the cast, the character of his brother became extraneous, and a result, Henry Jefferson never appeared on The Jeffersons. Henry's absence was attributed to his family's move to Chicago, Illinois, but was mentioned one time when he had a son named Raymond (played by Gary Coleman), who came to visit his aunt Louise and uncle George in one episode of The Jeffersons.
During All in the Family, Jefferson lived in a working-class neighborhood in the borough of Queens, next door to the Bunker family, with his wife Louise (Isabel Sanford) and son Lionel (Mike Evans). During the period between 1971 and 1973, George's perpetual absence was explained as being a result of his refusal to set foot in his bigoted neighbor Archie Bunker's home, of Jefferson's own anti-white prejudice. In later episodesm however, relationships between Jefferson and Bunker thawed somewhat. When the spin-off series The Jeffersons began in January 1975, George and his family had moved "to a deluxe apartment in the sky" on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
All in the Family Appearances
The following is a list of All in the Family episodes featuring George Jefferson before and during The Jeffersons.
- Episode 6: "Henry's Farewell"
- Episode 14: "Archie Is Cursed"
- Episode 20: "Lionel's Engagement"
- Episode 23: "Pay the Twenty Dollars"
- Episode 1: "The Bunkers and Inflation" (Part 1)
- Episode 3: "The Bunkers and Inflation" (Part 3)
- Episode 4: "The Bunkers and Inflation" (Part 4)
- Episode 5: "Lionel the Live-In"
- Episode 9: "Where's Archie?" (Part 2)
- Episode 10: "The Longest Kiss"
- Episode 12: "George and Archie Make a Deal"
- Episode 13: "Archie's Contract"
- Episode 18: "The Jeffersons Move on Up"
- Episode 25: "Mike Makes His Move"
- Episode 22: Cameo in "Mike's New Job"
The lingering cultural impact of the George Jefferson character is such that Michelle Obama, the wife of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, referenced George Jefferson in a June 2008 interview with the New York Times. Referring to an unfounded rumor discussed by a blogger that she had once used the word "whitey" in a speech, Michelle Obama told the Times: "You are amazed sometimes at how deep the lies can be . . . I mean, ‘whitey’? That’s something that George Jefferson would say. Anyone who says that doesn’t know me. They don’t know the life I’ve lived. They don’t know anything about me."