Entertainment & Culture
The Greatest Black TV Fathers of All Time

By Michael Harriot

As we celebrate Father’s Day, the men who shaped our lives deserve much praise and applause. As such, we also want to honor the talented men who shaped our cultural ideal of black fatherhood. We gathered an esteemed panel of tastemakers, experts and women who made a 2 o’clock hair salon appointment but are still waiting to come up with this countdown of the top 10 black television fathers of all time:

10. George Jefferson


Although George might have been an asshole, he was actually a good, strong father raising a strong black son who grew up to marry a strong, independent black woman. Even though Lionel was lazy (I mean, why did they need a maid in a two-bedroom apartment? Lionel could’ve cleaned that apartment in 24 minutes after he got home from school), Lionel seemed well-adjusted and happy

9. Cliff Huxtable

Bill Cosby as Cliff HuxtableGIPHY

I’m not talking about Bill Cosby; I’m talking about Clair’s husband. Theo and Vanessa’s dad. Thecharacter. Cliff was an excellent father who spent more time with his children than his wife (mostly because his office was in the house). Plus, he even adopted cousin Pam and Olivia (by the way—who is a bigger embarrassment to black people: Raven-Symoné or Bill Cosby?) and put up with Clair’s cheating on him during the early part of their marriage. Wait. You knew that, right? I mean, Rudy, Theo and Vanessa look like Cliff, but there is no way Sondra and Denise are his. Look at them. He was a doctor, so I’m sure he knew, but he raised them like they were his own. Kudos.

8. Carl Winslow

Reginald Johnson as Carl Winslow
Reginald Johnson as Carl WinslowYOUTUBE SCREENSHOT

I know it must have been tough living the life of “one of the good” police officers we hear so much about and then coming home and having to endure the nasal drone of the neighbor kid who’s always over at your house, drinking up all the Kool-Aid, eating up all the Pop-Tarts. Carl would’ve been lower on the list if his oldest daughter hadn’t disappeared up the stairs after the first season and resurfaced in porn. He redeems himself by being the only person on this list mentioned in a Kanye West freestyle.

7. Lester Jenkins

Hal Williams as Lester Jenkins and Marla Gibbs as Mary Jenkins
Hal Williams as Lester Jenkins and Marla Gibbs as Mary JenkinsYOUTUBE SCREENSHOT

A large percentage of the reason the dad from 227 is included on this list comes solely from the magnificence of his mustache. One would also have to tip a hat to Lester for having never stepped out of the bounds of marriage while Jackée paraded around the building in those short, tight skirts jiggling all that thickness like a Jell-O salesman. He also raised a great daughter who apparently moved to the West Coast to hang out with Tupac, Janet, Craig and Smokey.

6. Lucious Lyon

Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon and Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon
Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon and Taraji P. Henson as Cookie LyonGIPHY

You have to give it to a man for paving the way for a multimillion-dollar family business, even though he may have taken the road less traveled. His time in jail and that pesky Jamal/garbage-can incident might not make him the perfect candidate for Father of the Year, but his kids’ success make him the Joe Jackson of TV dads, and you know Lucious would rig the election anyway. Plus, the ability to handle Cookie’s ghetto fabulousness for all those years deserves a little applause.

5. Robert Jebediah Freeman

Robert Jebediah FreemanYOUTUBE SCREENSHOT

Riley and Huey’s granddad took them into his house after he had retired and built his nest egg. Instead of chilling out and spending his latter days with his homeboy Uncle Ruckus, he now has to dispense life lessons, stop Riley from transforming into a Superthug and referee Huey’s revolutionary, kung-fu-infused rants. It can’t be easy going from quiet solitude to answering doorbell rings from A Pimp Named Slickback (That’s the entire name. Like “A Tribe Called Quest.”)

4. Fred G. Sanford

Redd Foxx as Fred G. Sanford
Redd Foxx as Fred G. SanfordGIPHY

After Elizabeth died, he raised Lamont on his own, in a junkyard. I’m sure Rollo and Aunt Esther provided support, but Lamont eventually became a caring, conscientious young man, lured only from the straight and narrow by his dad. And he had a great mustache. The “G” stood for “great father.”

3. Kunta Kinte

LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte
LeVar Burton as Kunta KinteYOUTUBE SCREENSHOT

He didn’t really get to know Kizzy, but she wouldn’t be here if not for the stoic strength and majesty of Kunta. Because of his fortitude, she will know her father’s real name. If not for Kunta, Kizzy would have been dust in the wind because he traded half of his foot to be able to produce children. That is a hard price for anyone to pay. That’s why most people aren’t aware that Kizzy was kicked out of three schools for violence. She had a habit of slapping any child named Toby. They say she got it from her daddy.

2. Philip Banks

James Avery as Phillip Banks and Will Smith as Will
James Avery as Philip Banks and Will Smith as WillGIPHY

Uncle Phil took in Will during the most fragile part of his youth and made him a man. While Carlton was destined to go on to work at some investment bank, raising a black son from Philly isn’t easy—even in Bel-Air. Phil was such a good father, he made it to No. 2 on the list despite the fact that he murdered the dark-skinned Aunt Vivian and tried to play it off like no one noticed. We noticed, Uncle Phil. I don’t like to get into skin tones and what they mean, but the second Aunt Viv just looked like her macaroni and cheese just wasn’t quite right. I’m not saying … I’m just saying.

1. James Evans Sr.

John Amos as James Evans Sr.
John Amos as James Evans Sr.WIKI COMMONS

The greatest TV father of all time raised his kids in the ghetto and they eventually all moved out. Eventually. Like all black fathers, James didn’t take no mess. He was stern, but he was also the family protector. If James were alive, there is no way he would have let Thelma have that brief marriage to Ibe. As a matter of fact, I bet Penny’s mama would never have burned her with that iron if she had known that James was around. Plus, with all the gossiping and confusion Willona stirred up, I bet she tried to holler at James one time, but he was faithful to Florida because he loved her. Because she was the mother of his children. And probably because he didn’t have to spend a lot of money on perms and beauty salon visits. He was taken from us too soon, but before he left us, he showed us the blueprint on building a strong black family.

Damn, damn, James … you’re the greatest black TV father of all time.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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