Five Things You May Not Know about Spelman Graduate Esther Rolle

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By Yolanda Spivey

Esther Rolle was famous for playing the strong matriarch in the hit television series Good Times. She was also famously known to have walked away from the show at the height of its success due to the negative images that were being portrayed and played through fellow co-star Jimmie Walker.  Esther Role was born on November 8, 1920 in Pompano Beach, Florida.  Here are a few interesting facts about this great actress that may interest you:

Her family was large and in charge– Esther Rolle was the tenth of eighteen children, born to Bahamian immigrant parents.  Two of her sisters were also well-known actresses.  Her sister Estelle Evans, starred in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Learning Tree—and her other sister, Rosanna Carter, appeared in movies such as The Brother from Another Planet and Night of the Juggler.  She also made guest appearances on Good Times, The Cosby Show, I’ll Fly Away and Law & Order.

Esther Rolle got the acting bug late in life– Esther Rolle is pure proof that it’s never too late to live your dreams. She started acting at the age of 42 after joining an African American dance troupe which she eventually directed.  She appeared in her first film, Nothing But a Man, by the age of 44 and landed the role of Florida Evans in the hit television show Good Times when she was 54 years old.  The rest is HERstory!

She was an educated woman– Esther Rolle attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.  When she moved to New York City, she attended Hunter College and then to The New School.  Finally she transferred to Yale University in New Haven Connecticut.

She fought to maintain positive images of Blacks on television– Although she spent the majority of her film and television career playing domestic servitude roles, Esther Rolle fought to keep positive images of Blacks, specifically women, on television.  When she was offered the role of Florida Evans on the hit television show Good Times, she told the show creator that she will not take the role if the matriarch wasn’t married.  Show creator Norman Lear respected Esther Rolle so much, he created the role of James Evans just to have her on the show.  She was awarded a NAACP Civil Rights Leadership Award in 1990 for her role in trying to destroy negative stereotypes that often plagued Blacks in film.

She was more than just an actress– Esther Rolle released a musical album titled The Garden of My Mind in 1975.  In addition to acting and singing, she was also a dancer.


38 Comment

  1. She was also a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority.

  2. oh ok.

  3. Excellent piece on Ms. Rolle, glad to hear she did not sell her soul for the almighty dollar!

  4. Good for her. You go sister

  5. CORRECTION: Esther Rolle first played the role of Florida Evans on the TV show, Maude. Good Times is a spin-off of Maude. Maude and The Jefferson's were spin-offs of All in the Family.

  6. I always admired Ms. Esther Rolle. Although I watched this wonder woman on TV, I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet with her in person.

  7. I’m in agreement with Ms. Ann G…Can I add that Esther Rolle when asked to do “Good Times” stood her grounds that she would not be a single woman raising children without a father. She demanded a husband. They (the Network) agree, however, keep “James Evans (John Amos) unemployed most of the time. Also, Ms. Esther Rolle taught at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey for a short period.

  8. I learned something new. Black history at its finest. Thanks Esther Rolle for being a Black girl who rocked!!

  9. Interesting article…I always liked her.

  10. She also had a role in Rosewood!

  11. She was likable..and the moral fiber of that family.

  12. If I remember correctly, her last role before her death was "Down In the Delta" with Alfre Woodard. Very ggod movie by the way.

  13. Wow. Esther Rolle was a BOSS! A true pioneer and very humble.

  14. VERY good, Mr. Wesley. You must be or have been a big fan of the 1970s sitcoms. You are absolutely right!

  15. Thank you Esther for making sure in your role as Florida Evans,
    That you had a husband, and it was a family.
    Not a single mother.

    many of these actresses these days would have sold out for a dollar, rather than having an intact black family.

  16. She was pretty outspoken on that show Maude too. It would be called sassy these days. More like self-respect though.

  17. Love Good Times. Loved her role as the mother. Very accomplished woman. This is the second article I've read about Ms Rolle. I just wish someone could explain why most of the time she wore orange or had orange on the clothes she wore in the Good
    Times series.

  18. wow, you learn something new everyday, what a remarkable woman.

  19. so true.


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  22. Strong, smart , caring woman.

  23. I always lovd and respectd her I`m glad 2 know we were born on the same day. Ahoy mates

  24. This is some really good information to know about the late, awesome Esther Rolle…..so good to know that what I had heard all these years is true….she left Good Times because of it’s NEGATIVE portrayals of Black people…and to find out now that the show was originally going to be of a single mother in the projects???!! I hate the show even more now. I am so glad to have this information about her….really makes me smile…..

  25. My cousin

  26. Mine as well!

  27. I loved Esther Rolle so much..you could help but love Florida..Good time represented so many families including mine.Florida represented a strong African American women who held her family together and we just loved her!

  28. She played the parts that were given to her.

  29. I have always admired and respected Miss Rolle. To me she was and still is a positive role model. Even as a maid on TV, she had courage, respect, confidence and dignity.

    Miss Rolle had far more talent than some of these so-called actresses of today’s entertainment.

    No one could not take that away from her.

  30. Very dynamic sista I had the pleasure of meeting her briefly years ago she had a regal aura about herself.

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