From Jacksonville: Zara Cully Brown

I made travels to New York in 2010 and copied pages and pages of articles, advertisements and announcements that pertained to various ancestors.

Some of these ancestors I knew, and some I did not..and for some, I was fortunate to hear stories about them.  I however knew my Aunt Zara.  She was an actress in Hollywood and played Mother Jefferson on the “Jefferson’s”.  I  was 10 years old when she died.  I didn’t  know the early life of Zara as she was born in the 1890’s…so piecing the puzzle together, and putting skin on the bones of who she was has been most rewarding.

Here is an article written in the Chicago Defender (National Editon) on December 24, 1927 where my maternal Great Aunt, Zara Cully Brown is mentioned.


[Transcribed Top portion]



The presentation of Damon and Pythias was a great success recently in Jacksonville, Fla.  The participants did their parts well and the huge audience showed their appreciation by heartily applauding.

Dr. R. L. Brown, one of the leading physicians of the town and a very able dramatic actor, did the role of Damon and really was at his best.

Miss Thomas cleverly did the part of Calanthe and  Mr. Hines as Pythias was perfect in casting.

The play was elegantly costumed and was abundant with scenic splendors.  The presentation was ably directed by Mrs. Zara Cully Brown.



In the article above, Zara Cully Brown is a participant as a dramatic reader at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem, New York.  This is the church my mother was a member of and had her confirmation here.  I visited this church in April 2010.  The Church was amazing!

I could sense my ancestors as I walked and worshiped in the very place they acted out their weekly routines.  Zara was a dramatic reader in Worcester, MA, in Florida, and she continued doing this in New York in December of 1939.  Zara also was faithful to helping others that were sick and shut-in.

I have so many articles to share and will continue to do so.  If you are interested in seeing more, you can go to the Category “Family and Friends in the News” under the Picture Tab.


Zara Cully Brown: Sugar Hill- Mama Maitresse

Zara Cully Brown, Marki Bey & Don Pedro Colley

      A few months ago I watched the movie Sugar Hill with my Great Aunt, Zara Cully Brown playing the part of Mama Maitresse.  I was about six years old when she did this film in 1974.  I was interested in the film because I thought it was about Sugar Hill in New York, as my mother was born and raised on Sugar Hill.  I almost thought it ironic Zara would be playing in a film on the Hill.  
     I soon discovered that the movie was about a woman named Diane ‘Sugar’ Hill, who wanted revenge on her enemies who brutally murdered her boyfriend after refusing to be shaken down by a gangster racketeer.
     Zara was my mother’s Aunt, who was her mother’s (Agnes) sister.  I wish I could include a note that my Aunt Zara sent to  my mother of how she was not going to accept this job because she would have to hold a snake in the movie and she was scared of snakes.  The note is at the Malcolm X Library with my family display, so once I get this, I will post.
     I am including a clip below of Zara in action. (Please be patient with the short commercial)

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Zara Cully Brown: Funeral Card Friday

January 26,1892 – February 28,1978
Program Card
Inside of Program Card

I wrote about Zara in a prior post Zara Frances Cully Brown, but wanted to share her actual program.  I was 10 years old when I went to her funeral.  Below, I am posting the last performance that my Aunt Zara was playing as Mother Jefferson.

© Yvette Porter Moore-All Rights Reserved

Sentimental Sunday: Porter Family Yearly Christmas Letter-1978

Every Christmas my mother Betty Mae Porter would draft an End of the Year Letter and send to all her friends and family.  Every year I looked forward to seeing what she would write about, and even more interested to see what she would say about me.  I miss those days, as my mother is no longer with us….I tried to pick up the tradition, but have not been very consistent.  Maybe now that I am doing more writing, I can pick up the Family Tradition.

Porter Family Christmas Letter of 1978

6066 College Avenue
San Diego, California 92120
December 19, 1978

Dear Friends and Relatives,

     Here I go again on Christmas Letter #?  (I’ve lost count.)  It’s great to be alive and well and able to correspond with you once again.

     We lost Aunt Zara this year.  (She was “Mother Jefferson” on the T.V. “Jeffersons” show).  She was my mother’s sister.  We miss her very much!  With my family dwindling, those who remain become even more precious.  I do try to keep in touch with Polly and John Buggs and with their daughter Zaragale and her dear little family.  I hardly ever hear from the other relatives, although we did gather together on the day of the funeral.  I am honored to have some of Auntie’s beautiful furniture in my home.  It is not only lovely but has great sentimental value for me.    
     Wally’s doing just great!  He has the same title-Director of the San Diego Community Colleges Skills Center-but more responsibility now-as the Skills Center has been made an independent branch of the Adult Division.  To this extent it is a promotion, and we are delighted!

     I love teaching in La Jolla.  This is my second year, and I’m going strong.  This is my eighth year with the M.G.M. (“Mentally Gifted Minor”) Program.  It’s both challenging and interesting.  I have a third-fourth grade combination.  The children are sweet, and their parents are supportive.

     Yvette is in the fifth grade.  She attends one of our “Fundamental” schools.  They stress the basic subjects.  Wally drives her to school, and she walks to the sitter’s afterwards.  She has a great time playing with the sitter’s girls and some of their neighbors.  She also thoroughly enjoys being a Girl Scout.  With the latter group she attended camp this summer, and recently she did a fine job enacting “Uncle Sam” in their Christmas play performed at school.

     Marshall attends Jr. High School.  He is in the seventh grade and is, frankly, in shock!  It’s so different from the cozy little neighborhood elementary school he attended!  On top of that, he’s shooting up so fast physically.  He just turned twelve in October, and he’s five feet, five and one-half inches tall!  We’re trying to help him adjust to all this.  It isn’t easy, however, to keep in touch with six different teachers, though.  I’m considering private school, but they mostly have waiting lists, since Proposition 13 passed.  He has a pleasant disposition and is helpful around the house.

     We had a joyous Thanksgiving!  State Senator Bill Greene (Yvette’s Godfather) came with his wife, my buddy, Yvonne and his two lovely young daughters.  We had a great time with each other and the other fun guests.  We’re going to the Rose Bowl game.  That should be fun!!  STAY WELL.
Love, Walter, Betty, Marshall, Yvette, Butsie (Dog), by Betty

P.S. Instead of taking a summer trip, we installed a swimming pool.  It is so much fun, and the kids are ecstatic!

We have African Art in the San Diego Art Museum now!   Wally and I helped in this effort.

Add on Note to Christmas Letter for Particular Individuals

Tombstone Tuesday (Wendell Culley and Zara Cully Brown)

My Daughter Tori and I placing flowers on Wendell Culley’s unmarked Grave

Summer of 2010, My daughter and I went to locate my Great Uncle Wendell Phillip Culley’s grave and headstone.  Wendell was born January 8, 1906-May 8, 1983. Wendell was a jazz musician from Worcester, MA and played trumpet for Sissle Noble, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and played on over 200 recordings for many other singers and musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughn. Wendell was one of Zara Cully Brown’s from the “Jefferson’s” younger brothers.  Much to my surprise there was no headstone.  There will be some family efforts to get Wendell a marker on his Grave. Our loved one’s should never be forgotten.

Location of Grave:
Rose Hills Memorial Park
Los Angeles County
California, USA
Plot: Garden of Affection, Sec 9, Lot 3149 Grave 4

Zara Cully Brown, listed are her husband and two of her children.

Photo by Scott Michaels

Location of Gravesite:  Photos from
Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
Los Angeles County
California, USA
Plot: Freedom Mausoleum, Columbarium of Victory

Photo by A.J. Marik: Zara Cully Brown’s wall nitch

© Yvette Porter Moore-All Rights Reserved