Stories about life in Liddonfield housing project and its impact on the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Upper Holmesburg. These true stories reveal how government policy affected the lives of real people, from the project residents to area homeowners during the 5 decades of Liddonfield’s existence. Stories and articles are written by a former resident of the project.


Rosemary Reeves, Blogger, standing on Philadelphia Skyline

Feb 13, 2012

Good Times Show vs. a Liddonfield Housing Project Family

by Rosemary Reeves

From 1974 to 1979, a popular sitcom called Good Times aired on television.  The show portrayed a black family living in a housing project.  I was fixated with that show, because my family had lived in Liddonfield Housing Project.  Though at the time it aired we were no longer living there, we had experienced years of public housing stigma in our new environment.  Liddonfield had created an “us” and “them” mentality in the Upper Holmesburg neighborhood where it stood and we were known as the “project family” or the “Liddonfielders” long after we moved out of the project. 

There were many parallels between my family and the family in Good Times.  For instance, in Good Times the father, James, only had a sixth grade education, a fact that severely limited his job opportunities.  He was often in and out of work and took whatever odd jobs were available to him.  In a crisis, he sometimes teetered on the verge of hopelessness, and his wife would lift him up emotionally with words of encouragement.  

My father’s name was also James.  Dad only had an eighth grade education.  When we lived in the projects he was often in and out of work.  (Eventually, though, he was able to find a steady job with a maintenance crew in an office building in Center City, Philadelphia.)  At times of crisis, Dad often lost all hope and Mom would keep him going with words of encouragement.

In the show, the mother was religious and kept a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall.  When the family was broke and couldn’t pay the rent, she insisted that they come by the money in honest ways, no matter how desperate their poverty or how grim their situation.  She focused on keeping her husband and children on the straight and narrow in a world where poverty tried to steer them otherwise.

My mom was religious, too.  She also kept a picture of Jesus on the wall.  Mom also taught us values, but like James, Dad sometimes thought that desperate times call for desperate measures.  When he was out of work and there was no food, Dad used to steal milk bottles from people’s doorsteps.

In Good Times, the oldest son, J.J., was a budding artist who sold his paintings for a small income.  In every episode, J.J.’s easel and canvas was a major focus of the set.  Often, J.J. struggled to find ways to afford more paint or other artist supplies.

My sister Eileen, the oldest girl, was also an artist who sold her paintings for a small income.  She kept her easel and canvas in the tiny bedroom we shared.  I had to take care not to bump into it when entering and exiting the room.  She would be upset whenever she ran out of paint, which was expensive, and took odd jobs to buy more art supplies.

Michael was the youngest child in Good Times.  Michael was an aspiring activist, who schooled his parents and siblings on black power, black history and civil rights.  His heroes were black activists and revolutionaries, whom he quoted regularly.  Michael was also familiar with the organizations they founded and collected their literature for his family to read.

I was also the youngest in my family.  From the age of eleven, I started to become politically minded. I had a serious preoccupation with the women’s rights movement and often quoted my hero, Gloria Steinem.  I aspired to become an influential member of the National Organization for Women.  I schooled my mother and older sisters on women’s history, the inequality of the sexes through oppressive laws and the struggle for women’s rights.  

Good Times was more than just a sitcom.  It was a breakthrough in entertainment.  Finally, public housing families could see themselves portrayed in a realistic way that revealed the moral dilemmas and hardships that impoverished people faced.  As a kid from the projects, that show meant the world to me.  I saw my own family members in the Good Times characters, even though we were white.  Unfortunately, my father let his struggle with abject poverty get the best of him.  He did not have the sense of humor that James had in Good Times.  That’s too bad, because if he did, the hard times would have been easier to get through. 

1 comment:

  1. There's an undercurrent of race throughout your blog. I'm wondering how you, the daughter of a poor white family from the projects, feel about the upcoming affirmative action case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this session (Fisher v. The University of Texas.) You mentioned your brothers. They grew up poor too. Should they continye to be on the losing end of racial preferences?

    I'd really be fascinated to hear your views on this issue. Perhaps a topic for an upcoming entry?


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