Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area
Whitest Man He Ever Knew/Mr. Jackson Remembered
By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 24 September 1961, page 14.
When North Yakima was the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway, the train ran from North Yakima to Pasco Junction. On its combination club and dining car, a colored man known only as Mr. Jackson, held forth as chef, barber and all-around "Mr. Fixit." Mr. Jackson was a tall, powerful man. He was born a slave on one of the largest and most beautiful antebellum, southern plantations.
Because of his splendid physique, honesty of character, and remarkable intelligence, he was selected by his owner to be trained for a gentlemen's valet. His training was most thorough and complete. Shortly after the conclusion of this training, the "War of the Rebellion" ended. Mr. Jackson drifted north to Chicago and secured employment in the car shops that were located there. He was later transferred to the dining car service and came west to the North Yakima run.
Mr. Jackson became tired of travel on the dining car. He wished to settle down. When the first Yakima hotel was built in North Yakima, he secured space in it for a barber shop. He resigned from the railroad. He furnished his barber shop with the best of fixtures including several public bathtubs. He also arranged very cozy quarters for himself. The shop under his guidance became very popular. He was an exceptional barber, having a very thorough knowledge of razors and how to keep them in good cutting condition.
Now that he was established in a good business, he thought of marriage. A colored widow with three small children came to North Yakima from Roslyn following the death of her husband in the coal mines. She and Mr. Jackson met at church. They were attracted to each other. Her oldest child, a boy, shined shoes in Mr. Jackson's shop. They were engaged to be married. The date was set when she suddenly died. Mr. Jackson was heart broken. He buried his wife-to-be and took the three children into his home and raised and educated them, not only in the public schools, but hired music teachers to train their voices and teach them the piano and violin. One of the girls had a beautiful voice and became a soprano singer of some fame.
Mr. Jackson never married. When not busy in his shop, he taught his customers' riding horses how to singlefoot. He was an expert equestrian having received this knowledge in his early training. If some poor man was sick he would take his large black satchel filled with all the things needed and give him a free shave and haircut. When it was cold and some poor lad passed the window of his shop without mittens or an overcoat, he would purchase a pair of mittens and a coat that would fit the lad. The next time the boy passed he was called in and the garments put on. The boy was told that the would be called to do something in lieu of payment whenever the opportunity happened. The opportunity would never arrive.
If a limping horse was tied to a hitch rack, he found time to examine its feet and pick out the stone. He was continually doing something for someone in need.
After the children had grown and left, he continued his activities until his eyes began to fail. Upon the insistence of the younger girl he had raised, he closed his shop and went to Seattle to dwell with her. She was a soloist in the church and had a thriving music school.
I received this latter information by accident. One day while strolling down Pike Street I happened to bump into my old friend by chance. We were both happily surprised and backed against a building and proceeded to get caught up on what had happened to each other since our last meeting. He remarked that he had lived most of his life with white people, that this was the first time he had ever lived exclusively with his own people. He said, "Mr. Lum, I think we African people should develop special talents that God in his wisdom gave us. We should be good Africans and in so doing we would gain the respect of all races. Mr. Lum, my father was a hotten-tot from South Africa. Most of we colored people of the older generation are not far removed from savagery. I know if we take sufficient time and work hard, we will be able to make a place in the scheme of things in this land of our so blest by God's love."Return to Index of Burton Lum Articles