There have always been beautiful Black mothers – whether from our birth, adopted, or chosen families – who offered words of wisdom, care, and safety to each of us. Similarly, it was our imaginary moms and aunties who held a special place in our hearts too.
Most of the moms on television are White and represent the mainstream ideals of society. But, Black moms on television often must contend with a host of issues which are typically invisible on mainstream shows. These 8 moms fit that description perfectly.
1. Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show)
Claire Huxtable, played by the incomparable Phylicia Rashad, was a lawyer and mother of five who managed a household of strong characters with finesse. Claire was always witty, coy and gorgeous. She didn’t take no mess but was able to compromise when needed. The great thing about her role was that she contended with the issues facing affluent and socially-mobile Black women, showing that Black women face a range of social issues with grace.
Literally everyone want Claire to be their auntie growing up. In my mind, she is a member of my family.
2. Vivian Banks (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Aunt Viv (the first one) was played by Jane Hubert during seasons one through three of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show started in the early nineties and became a quick hit for NBC. Hubert was great for the show because she played a darker complected dancer who never backed down from a challenge. While the Banks family was living in Bel-Air, Aunt Viv was unapologetically Black.
We’ll never forget her iconic dance routine audition where she just had to prove she could hang with the younger, predominantly White dancers.
3. Harriette Baines-Winslow (Family Matters)
Harriette, played by Jo Marie Payton, was the best. She had no problem rolling her eyes when her husband Carl (played by Reginald Bell Johnson) said something ridiculous. She was a working mother of three kids: Eddie, Laura, and Judy.
Not only that, she worked in predominantly male-oriented positions in the City of Chicago like security and elevator operations. Harriette often stood up for the nerdy neighbor, Steve Urkel, even when no one in the house wanted to be bothered with him. And, she accurately portrayed the nuanced nature of parenting in a household full of immediate and extended family.
4. Eleanor Emerson (Roc)
Roc was such a great show. The main character, Charles “Roc” Emerson (played by Charles S. Dutton) was a Baltimore city garbage collector who always brought home treasures that his residents deemed trash. Eleanor (played by Ella Joyce) was a registered nurse.
Eleanor’s role was so important because she showed the complexity of parenting in a working class neighborhood which often faced issues of violence. At one point, Eleanor and Roc went through the struggles of trying to conceive but were finally able to have a child. The show dealt with issues of poverty, violence, and sexual abuse. It was a true gem and Eleanor was integral to its greatness.
5. Deidra “Dee” Mitchell (Moesha)
Moesha was an all around great show. And, “Dee” (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) was a character whose presence became more and more welcomed as the show progressed. It was set in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles, an area with primarily middle and upper class Black residents.
Dee was the stepmom to Moesha (played by Brandy Norwood). While she was often hard on the teen, she clearly loved her as her own. This was one of the first shows to show a Black stepmom grappling with raising children who weren’t her own.
6. Florida Evans (Good Times)
Good Times was set in the Chicago projects called Cabrini Green. Florida (played by the late Esther Rolle) was the iconic superwoman on the show: a stay-at-home-mom, a do-gooder for everyone she knows, and a devoted citizen full of ethical and moral propensities. She rocked an afro before women on television and in fashion thought they were trendy. And, her curvy frame made her all the more relatable to Black women everywhere.
Florida Evans showed the resilience of Black motherhood like no other.
7. Ruby Johnson (black-ish)
Ruby Johnson (played by Jennifer Lewis) is entirely too crunk not to include her on this list. Lewis brings so much realness to her role, playing the mother to Andre Johnson (played by Anthony Anderson) and grandmother to four hilarious children. Her funniest moments happen when she and Laurence Fishbourne, her on-screen ex-lover, argue back and forth.
What is best about Ruby is that she comes from Compton and shows her family that their big house, luxury cars, and extravagant lifestyle will never outweigh their connections to the communities from whence they came.
Photo credit: Wiki Commons (other photos from Tumblr, Wiki Commons, YouTube, and Giphy)