Florida's Daughter

Archive for April 2009

Bea ArthurYesterday, April 25, feminist television pioneer Bea Arthur, 86, died in her Los Angeles home. The actress was most well-known for her roles in two major television sitcoms: Maude (1972-1978) and The Golden Girls (1985-1992). Originally an occasional character on All in the Family, Maude Findlay premiered on the show in December 1971 as Edith’s cousin and soon established herself as Archie’s feminist nemesis, mirroring on the show actor Sherman Hemsley’s oppositional characterization of George Jefferson.

I was a 12-year-old Black preadolescent growing up on the Southside of Chicago when Bea Arthur first entered my life – 5-feet-9 and deep-throated when I was being socialized to squeaky-speak. I don’t recall making the racial distinction, after all, this was during the era when positive Black television characters, female or male remained rarities. I recall now that Maude Finlay had a maid, Florida Evans, a take-no-shit Black woman with challenges and troubles of her own that were later portrayed in the sitcom Good Times (which left me with an entirely different perception of Blacks, women and men).

Nonetheless, much of whom I am – an independent minded Black woman free to say and do as she pleases unrestricted most of the time by cultural and family dictates – is rooted in what I observed, and did not see on television. Maude – outspoken, politically liberal, three times divorced, an advocate of civil rights, and a woman’s right to choose – was my hero. By the time the show left the air in 1978, I had been married two years and was expecting my second child, but not before submitting to two abortions; mirroring in my own life Maude’s revolutionary decision to have an abortion in her late ‘40s.

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