Obituary - The Rev. John
Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
February 17, 1994
Color photo by BENJAMIN BRINK/The Oregonian.
Edition: FOURTH Section: LOCAL STORIES
Civil Rights Leader lived on the front lines
Summary: The Rev. John H. Jackson, dead at
81, encouraged patience and consistency in the battle to
gain social justice for all
During the tumult of the civil rights
struggle and school busing boycotts, perhaps one man stood
above all others in Portland as a beacon for all.
The Rev. John H. Jackson, who died of a
stroke Monday in a local care center, tried to shine a light
on what he saw as the true path to social justice and
liberation: patient, yet firm and consistent,
``When folks wanted to tear things down, to
tear things up, he was the voice of reason,'' said Richard
Brown, current co-chairman of the Black United Front, an
activist group Jackson helped found.
But while he called for balance with a wisdom
born of a lifetime of struggle against inequality, the
81-year-old retired pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church
didn't shy away from the battle.
``He was always on the front lines,'' Brown
said, whether it be for education, jobs and housing in the
black community or against violence, such as the Vietnam
War. ``He will surely be missed,'' the activist said.
A native of Pittsburgh, Jackson came to
Portland in 1964 as pastor of Mt. Olivet after earning
awards for his work in race relations and community service
in Connecticut, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
He retired 23 years later with a record of
pioneering achievements in Portland and in Oregon.
``I never met anybody in my life like him who
could combine the pastoral sentimentality with the hard, raw
political facts of a community trying to get out of the
hole,'' said Herb Cawthorne, former head of the Urban League
Cawthorne, now a San Diego, Calif.,
television commentator, said he was an angry, 30-year-old
black man who thought he could do it all himself when he was
appointed to the Portland School District board in 1979.
``He called me in once and he said in that
old, raspy voice, `Boy, you're smart and you're
book-learned, but you don't know the ways of the street and
you can't do it by yourself. So come on home,' '' Cawthorne
During the late 1970s, Portland was in the
midst of a heated fight over school desegregation and
The Black United Front, with Jackson and Ron
Herndon as co-chairmen, called for a student boycott of
Portland Public Schools. Nearly three-fourths of Portland's
7,000 black students stayed home on Malcolm X's birthday.
This created the momentum that brought former
school superintendent Matthew Prophet, a black, to Portland.
It led to the building of Harriet Tubman Middle School and
multicultural curriculum changes.
``Harriet Tubman Middle School, that should
be named John Jackson Middle School,'' Cawthorne said.
Racial prejudice and struggle colored
Jackson's own schooling.
As a grade school student, he lost a history
award given him by the Daughters of the American Revolution
when it was learned he was black. He graduated from the
University of Pittsburgh in 1940 and later from the Union
Theological Seminary in New York, but was denied entrance to
a doctoral program at Pitt because of his color.
So he spent his life trying to break down
educational and employment barriers for fellow blacks.
``I remember him linking arms and leading
some of the first civil rights marches in downtown
Portland,'' said the Rev. Rodney Page, executive director of
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
At that time, right after Jackson came to
Portland, the city's white majority ``felt civil rights was
a problem of the South,'' not the Northwest, Page said. ``We
got catcalls and all kinds of epithets thrown at us,'' he
Jackson was arrested for trespassing as late
as December 1984, at the age of 72, when he marched in an
anti-apartheid protest in front of Portland's now-closed
South African honorary consulate.
The minister also forced commitment out of
``One year I was considering leaving Portland
and going to Africa to live and work,'' said state Rep. Avel
Gordly, D-Portland, then program director of the American
Friends Service Committee. ``He didn't say don't go, but he
told me all the reasons I should stay in the community and
continue to make a contribution.''
In 1966 Jackson won the American Baptist Home
Societies' Edward Henry Rhoades Award for distinguished
service to urban churches. He received another national
honor in 1977 from the National Conference of Christians and
Local honors included the Aubrey R. Watzek
Award for distinguished service to Portland civil rights in
1968, a public service citation from the Public Housing
Authority of Portland in 1975, a certificate of appreciation
from the Portland chapter of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People in 1980, a Drum Major to
Justice Award from The Skanner newspaper in 1985 and the
Metropolitan Human Relations Commission's Russell A. Peyton
Award for contributions to human service in 1986.
Jackson's funeral will be Friday at 1 p.m. in
Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church. Viewing will be from 9 a.m.
to 9 p.m. Thursday at Caldwell's Colonial Chapel. Family
members will be there from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
"He's truly a great man, somebody in our
midst who truly achieved greatness,'' said Gordly. His
contributions ``go far beyond what his presence meant in the
black community. We should all claim his greatness, and we
should all look to his life for inspiration.''
Submitted by L. Kemp