17 December 2012

Why We’re Honoring Gertrude Jackson

posted by Jennifer Godwin

This guest post was written by Dr. John A. Kirk, George W. Donaghey Professor and Chair of History.

Gertrude Jackson once had a gunshot fired at her car. As a child, she walked nine miles to school each day. Jackson, who has lived in the Arkansas Delta for more than 80 years, has seen her share of struggle but it is her giving spirit and tenacity that make her so remarkable.

As influential Arkansans go, Jackson should be near the top. Her work toward community organizing, activism, and betterment in the Delta has resulted in the desegregation of a school district and the creation of a community center in the Marvell area.

On Dec. 20, at its fall commencement ceremony, UALR will award Jackson an honorary doctorate.

Jackson, now 89, was born in Madison, Ill. At age 7 she moved with her family to Gum Bottom, an area near the Turner community in Phillips County. Her grandfather’s death had prompted her father to return to the small family farm to assist her grandmother.

Jackson walked nine miles each day to attend a one-room segregated school through to the eighth grade. After that, she attended the all-black Marvell High School, which only went up to the 10th grade.

In 1944, she married Earlis Jackson. The couple ran a small farm near to her family’s homestead. In the 1960s, when the civil rights organization the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) started organizing in the area, Gertrude and Earlis became one of their main community contacts. SNCC meetings provided a place to discuss and act upon black community grievances.

One of the first issues the Jacksons and SNCC tackled was the back up of sewage at the black Turner Elementary School every time it rained because of poorly installed drainage pipes. A boycott of the school organized by SNCC and the Jacksons led to the problem being fixed.

Emboldened by the success of the collective action, they began to discuss school desegregation. In the summer and fall of 1966 a successful six-week school boycott by African American families of the entire Marvell School District took place. The boycott, together with a class action suit, led to the United States Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit ordering the school district “to fully and effectively desegregate not only all facilities but the faculty and classes effective at the beginning of the 1970-71 school year.”

The Jacksons faced retributions because of their community leadership. One day, a gunshot was fired at Gertrude Jackson’s car. On another occasion, sugar was put in the gas tank of the Jacksons’ cotton picker. Another time, Earlis Jackson averted an arson attempt by removing his burning truck from the shed where all the farm vehicles were kept.

Nevertheless, the Jacksons did not give up their struggle for freedom and equality. In 1978, Gertrude Jackson helped establish a community center, named the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center (BGACDC), with a mission of helping meet the needs and developing the full potential of all poor children of every race and their families.

In addition to meeting the social, educational, and recreational needs of the children of the community, the BGACDC has expanded to help meet the need for accessible and affordable health care, affordable decent housing, and the social and recreational needs of low to moderate income adult residents of the community. It is still considered the center of community life in the Marvell area.

And still today, approaching her nineties, Gertrude Jackson remains an important and tireless advocate for bettering the lives of those in the Arkansas Delta, black and white.

6 Responses to “Why We’re Honoring Gertrude Jackson”

  1. audra jackson says:

    Delightful story. Glad to see someone honor for untiring efforts that had a good impact upon the community.

  2. Deran Ford says:

    It is with profound joy to hear that UALR is honoring my aunt, Mrs. Gertrude Jackson, with an honorary doctorate degree. This honor makes me even more proud in saying “I’m an alum of what I believe to be the best university in Arkansas, UALR.” Aunt Gert has always been the pillar of our community, family and faith. Congratulations Aunt Gert, and thank you Dr. Anderson and UALR for giving back to a woman who has given so much to this state—as well as paved the way for so many of us to have a quality education and an opportunity to pursue our dreams!

  3. Corrine Pike-Booker says:

    In 1962 I entered 1st grade at Turner School and of course that was an exciting year. Later I would understand from listening to the older generation that we had a lot of things that we needed to overcome such as the old/used school textbook with “white” students name written in them, The Jim Crow law, poll voting, “blacks only” water fountains, Tastee Freeze in Marvell we had to order on the outside (not allowed inside). Also I was a 4th grade student at Turner School when the initial boycott began. When I was 5th grade in fall of 1966 I entered Marvell Elementary (white school) first realization was that 90% all my classmates that had left Turner School in the second semester of 1965 had failed their grades. Secondly, all the teachers were white. I we soon found out that we were not welcome mainly by the comments that was being made by the “white” students such as “Niggers” , “Go to your Own school.” “My parent pay taxes for this school” When we “black students” would walk down the hall all the “white students” would walk on one side away from the black students, Riding the school bus was a nightmare white student would try and save seats for other white student in order that Black Student would stand. I can recall several fights breaking out on the schools due to this. Thanks to Mr and Mrs Earlis Jackson, John Hamilton, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Pike, Mr. and Mrs. Lane, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Glass, Mr. and Mrs. James Jackson Mr and Mrs. Taylor and many, many, many others that followed the lead. I enjoyed the meeting places because no matter what we had endured that day at school it was sure to be brought out in the night meetings and at the conclusion we would join hands children and adults and sang “WE SHALL OVERCOME SOME DAY” . Looking back and yet still looking forward there has been a “great invention” but, it needs to be patent.. Congratulation Mrs. Gertrude!!! Happy Holidays to everyone!!! Corrine Pike

  4. Phylesia Davis says:

    Kudos to Aunt Gert!!! Kudos to UALR for giving her such a well-deserved honor. I am proud to be an alumni and employee of UALR!!!!

  5. Tracy Haney says:

    Dr. Jackson’s story is so inspiring I can’t begin to express the depth of my gratitude for her life and legacy. I attended UALR back in 1981 as an engineering technology student. I wasn’t able to finish my education in that field, but I’m about to complete an MBA program with one class remaining. I say this because it is individuals like Dr. Jackson who have inspired me as an African American man to strive to make a difference in the lives of others. I am so proud of UALR and what it has done to honor her. I proudly stand with the University and salute a woman of class and distinction like Dr. Gertrude Jackson. Bravo!!!

  6. Roslyn Scott says:

    Cousin Gertrude called me this evening. She is so happy to have received this honor. I am grateful to you for recognizing her efforts for civil rights and equality! She is an inspiration to those who will follow her example.

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