In 1969, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), J. Edgar Hoover, labeled the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of our country.” The party, active between 1966 and 1982, was initially formed to challenge the excessive force and misconduct of the Oakland Police Department. Its militancy approach, highlighted by its open-carry patrols, dubbed “cop-watching,” was expanded to chapters in many major cities, including New York. However, the law enforcement community was not particularly fond of the group’s tactics in addressing class struggles and racial tensions.
Although known for its aggressive, threatening advocacy for the black community, the Black Panthers quietly influenced the portrayal of African Americans in the nation’s entertainment industry. Three group members were fans of television producer Norman Lear, the creator of America’s most popular and beloved fictitious bigot, All in the Family’s Archie Bunker. They met with the famed Director in his office to complain about how black people were portrayed on television, specifically Lear’s All in the Family spin-off series Maude and its spin-off Good Times. The Black Panther’s position influenced Lear, and he responded by creating All in the Family’s second spin-off, The Jeffersons. That series, featuring a primarily African American cast, became one of the longest running-sitcoms in history (eleven years), even outlasting the originating All in the Family by two years.
We first met George and Louise Jefferson, and their son Lionel, as neighbors of Archie and Edith Bunker in the original series. In the new television program, the Jefferson Family moved from the Astoria, Queens, rowhouse on Hauser Street to a “deluxe apartment in the sky” on East 63rd Street in Manhattan. During All in the Family’s first season, George was awarded $5000 in a civil-action suit after being injured when a bus rear-ended his car in an accident. He used the proceeds to open his first dry cleaning business in Queens. George successfully built up the dry-cleaning business and expanded it to five stores, and eventually two more on the new show as he was “movin’ on up.” His success met the desires of the Black Panthers to portray a black couple becoming prosperous and respectable in the day’s cultural setting.
Today, we commemorate another who was revived and ridiculed, one who was marginalized yet offered hope to the oppressed: Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord and Savior. We remember Jesus “movin’ on up” as he ascended to the Father on this Day of Ascension. Celebrate the death and resurrection spin-off – the Lord’s ascension! Also, we invite you to worship with us this coming Sunday, May 21, at 8:00 AM (spoken), 10:15 AM (traditional), or 6:00 PM (Taizé). We will thank Jesus, who through his death, resurrection and ascension, saves us, whereby we “finally got a piece of the pie!”