Season One, Episode Two: Black Jesus (February 15, 1974)

“This is what the brothers need.”

The first season’s second episode opens with J.J. painting a picture of a street hustler, Sweet Daddy Williams. When Michael finds a painting in the closet that J.J. calls “Black Jesus,” he suggests that J.J. enter it in a local art show, but J.J. insists on entering the Sweet Daddy painting. Undaunted, and thrilled to have unearthed something that “the brothers need,” Michael replaces his mother’s portrait of the more traditional depiction of Jesus. Florida wants to take the painting down when she learns that J.J. used the neighborhood wino as his model, but the family suddenly experiences a streak of good luck, which James attributes to the presence of Black Jesus. When J.J. returns from the art show with the news that eight other artists had also painted Sweet Daddy Williams, Michael again stresses that he should submit Black Jesus as his entry. James strenuously objects, citing the luck he has received because of the painting, but he reverses his stance after ribbing from Thelma causes J.J. to doubt his talent. Instead, James removes the painting from the wall and, despite his own reluctance, insists that J.J. enter it in the show.

“B.J. is on a roll!”

With this, only the show’s second episode, Good Times turned out a well-rounded installment that managed to be both funny and heartwarming. An especially amusing run comes when James arrives home after receiving an unexpected refund from the Internal Revenue Service. Florida grows more and more frustrated as one person after another enters the apartment with sudden good news, from Thelma excitedly sharing the news that “THE” Larry Williams has invited her to an Issac Hayes concert, to a local numbers runner showing up to tell James that his number hit. Even Willona bursts in because she’s just learned that her annoying date from the previous night owns a gas station. (“Now I can say those three little words,” she gloats. “Fill ‘er up!”) Later, when Thelma belittles J.J. for his lack of ability, Michael defends him at every turn – his hero worship for his big brother is touching and sweet.

Pop Culture Connections

Black History Week

Carter G. Woodson: The Father of Black History Month.

Michael reminds J.J. about the beginning of Black History Week. This event was first created in 1926 by historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, designated for the second week of February. At that time, it was called “Negro History Week.” Nearly 50 years later, Black educators and the Black United Students organization at Kent State University proposed that the event be expanded to the entire month of February; the first Black History Month celebration took place at Kent State in 1970. In 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the commemoration of the U.S. Bicentennial. At the time that this episode was filmed, in 1974, the celebration was still Black History Week.

Space Lab

When Florida sees that Michael has replaced her portrait of Jesus with J.J.’s Black Jesus painting, she tells him, “I hope the space lab is out of the way, because I am just about to go into orbit!” She was likely referring to Skylab, the first U.S. space station, which was launched into orbit in May 1973 and returned to Earth in February 1974.

Muhammad Speaks

As part of his campaign to keep Black Jesus on display, Michael tells his mother that Jesus was Black, and that he read about it in Muhammad Speaks. Founded in 1960, Muhammad Speaks was the official publication of the Nation of Islam and contained both current events and news of interest to the Black community. The publication was renamed after Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975.

Fly Me

When Willona makes her entrance in the episode, she flings open the Evans’s front door and exclaims, “I’m Willona – fly me!” This is a reference to the popular Fly Me ad campaign by National Airlines, started in 1972. In TV spots and magazine ads, smiling, scantily clad stewardesses (as flight attendants were called back then) named Linda or Judy or Donna targeted their male travelers, inviting them to “fly them.” (Click here to check out one of the TV spots.) Although the campaign was hugely successful for the now-defunct airlines, it led to protests by stewardesses that eventually resulted in an improvement in workplace conditions.

Jet Magazine Centerfold

J.J. jokes that there were so many paintings of Sweet Daddy Williams at the art show that the hustler must be “this month’s Jet Magazine centerfold.” Jet was a weekly magazine published by Chicago’s John H. Johnson Publishing Company that focused on news, entertainment, sports, and politics related to the Black community. Billed as the “Weekly Negro News Magazine” and distinguished by its small 5 x 8 inch size, the magazine was also known for featuring a full-page feature known as “Beauty of the Week.” Also called the “Jet Centerfold,” this page featured a Black woman clad in a swimsuit, along with her name, profession, and interests. Jet has been published in a digital format only since 2014.

Guest Stars

Numbers Runner: Eric Monte

This episode featured only one guest star – the show’s co-creator Eric Monte. More about Monte in an upcoming post . . .

Other stuff:

When the episode opens, J.J. is not wearing his trademark blue demin hat. The hat doesn’t make its appearance until about halfway through the episode, when J.J. dons it to take his painting to the art show.

Eric Monte as the numbers runner.

Early in the episode, J.J. is looking for a tube of gold paint and blames Thelma for the missing item. Every time it’s missing, he tells her, she comes up with “a new pair of psychedelic dungarees.” I’m always struck by this line, because . . . who says “dungarees?” Unless you’re Tom Sawyer.

This episode contains the first references to Sweet Daddy Williams, a neighborhood loan shark, and Ned the Wino, the local drunk. These characters would both show up in the flesh later in the series, with Sweet Daddy played by Theodore Wilson and Ned the Wino played by Raymond Allen.

J.J. almost made it through the entire episode without uttering what would soon become his wildly popular trademark catchphrase – almost, but not quite. At the episode’s end, James tells J.J. to return his Black Jesus painting to the closet, and Florida allows it to stay on the wall: “This family can use all the help it can get,” she explains. And J.J.’s response? “Dy-no-mite!”

The next episode: Too Old Blues . . .