Momma Don’t Take No Mess!

Law enforcement officers probably didn’t expect to be confronted by my great grandmother, Addie Jackson, when they arrived to evict her daughters, Marie and Virginia (my grandmother), from their Tarrytown, NY home. But that’s exactly what happened. And one officer left with the bruises to prove it.

Momma no mess finalConstable William Beekman alleged that Momma Addie “shoved him” and caused him to fall against a wall and tear ligaments in his left shoulder, according to an article in an early 1920s issue of the Tarrytown Daily News.

Beekman, who charged Momma Addie with assault, arrived in court “with his left shoulder and left side strapped with adhesive tape and his arm in a sling from injuries,” the article says.

The Constable learned the hard way that “Momma Don’t Take No Mess.”

An Advocate for Baltimore’s Black Youth

When my great uncle Clarence Channing Jackson Jr. took a position with the Baltimounc chan youngre Department of Recreation in 1929 he made clear that his top priority was creating more recreational opportunities for the city’s black youth.

“I used every trick in the trade, every trick that I could command to gain facilities and opportunities” for black youth, Uncle Chan told a Baltimore newspaper. This included working with the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper to push for turning vacant lots into playing areas for black children.

uncle chan & mayor

Clarence Channing Jackson Jr. (Uncle Chan) joins the mayor of Baltimore at a playground dedication in the city’s Druid Hill Park section (circa 1935). “Mr. Jackson organized much of the first amateur sports activities for black Baltimoreans” an article said.

“As soon as he came to the city Mr. Jackson was given responsibility for the recreational activities of all the Negro children and their sports programs,” a 1963 Baltimore Sun article said.

Uncle Chan would go on to become the first black supervisor in the city’s Department of Recreation. Jackson “organized much of the first amateur sports activities for black Baltimoreans,” a  newspaper article said following his death in 1972.

cc jackson rec center-inside

In 1977, the city honored Uncle Chan with the opening of the “C.C. Jackson Recreation Center” in north Baltimore. A proclamation issued at the building’s dedication said this about Uncle Chan: “He fought for expansion of opportunity for black children with tenacity blended with wisdom.”

In 1977, the city honored Uncle Chan with the opening of the “C.C. Jackson Recreation Center” in north Baltimore. A proclamation issued at the building’s dedication said this about Uncle Chan: “He fought for expansion of opportunity for black children with tenacity blended with wisdom.”

Ironically, though not surprisingly, a half-century earlier Uncle Chan’s mother, Addie Jackson, had argued for more recreational opportunities for black youth in Tarrytown, NY where Uncle Chan was born and raised.Screen Shot 2019-01-31 at 10.40.47 PM

Addressing an advisory group set up in the early 1900s to make recommendations for improving the village, Momma Addie said this: ‘There is no recreation for colored boys and girls in Tarrytown. The civic league does wonderful work, but outside of that there is no means of recreation provided for us.”

unc chan runs track

 

 

A Legendary High School Athlete

In the early 1920′s, Uncle Chan was a legendary high school athlete at Washington Irving High School in Tarrytown, NY., where he starred in football and track and field.

A 1961 newspaper article in the Tarrytown Daily News (N.Y.) recalled this headline from a Nov. 24, 1921 issue of the paper: “Chan Jackson Makes 65-Yard Run for Touchdown.”

“It was a common occurrence for young Jackson to make exceptional long runs and win games within seconds of the final period,” the article says.

IMG_0008

Uncle Chan with his sons Clarence Channing Jackson III and Douglas.

His “terrific burst of speed and his ability to twist, turn, weave and dodge were executed quicker than the bat of an eyelid.”

Upon his graduation from Washington Irving in 1922, a newspaper editorial said this: “We are frank to admit that it will be some years before another Jackson is discovered. He is a wonder-athlete.”

IMG_0006

Uncle Chan’s wife, Aunt Lucille.

Uncle Chan went on to star in track at Springfield College in Massachusetts and would later coach the first women’s track team to compete internationally.

While in college, Uncle Chan worked as a “red cap” at Grand Central Station in New York City during summer recess and the holidays. He would later call it a “tremendous experience” where he met famous people from around the world, learned about various people and their personalities, and watched gangsters being “taken up the river” to Sing Sing Prison.

Scan0245

Clarence Channing Jackson Jr. is honored at a dinner in Tarrytown, NY where he was hailed as one of the greatest athletes ever at the town’s Washington Irving High School.

 

Clarence Channing Jackson Jr. saved his best and most important victories for the 1930s, 40s and ‘50s when he was a supervisor in Baltimore’s Department of Recreation. It was there that Uncle Chan used his talents and upbringing to fight segregation and create unprecedented opportunities for Baltimore’s black kids and families. And thus build on a tradition of racial solidarity and activism modeled by his mother and my great grandmother, Addie Jackson, and other members of our family.

 

Warming the Hands—and Hearts—of Black Soldiers

My great grandmother never missed an opportunity to support her race—often going the extra mile to do so.us-knitting-poster

When Americans were encouraged to knit items for the troops during World War I my great grandmother, Addie Jackson, and her daughters—my grandmother Virginia and my aunt Marie—knitted socks, scarves and gloves for the servicemen.

“During World War I Americans of all ages were asked by the United States government to knit wool socks, sweaters, and other garments to warm American soldiers at home and abroad,” an article on HistoryLink.org says.

369th infantry-knitted items'

Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment from Harlem, NY during World War I. My family knitted socks, gloves and scarves for the regiment and other black soldiers.

“On Sundays in those days everyone would make a pair of socks and there’d be at least four pairs of socks by the end of the day and gloves and scarves by the end of the week,” my Aunt Marie said in a 1981 article published in the Tarrytown (N.Y.) Daily News.

However, when Momma Addie discovered the black soldiers were not being sent these clothing items, she started a Red Cross chapter in her Tarrytown, NY home, and began knitting and sending scarves, gloves and socks to the black troops.

black girls knitting - Hampton, VA

Young black girls in Hampton, Virginia knit scarves, socks and other items for the World War I troops.

“We started the Red Cross in Tarrytown because it (the Red Cross) was segregated in those days,” my grandmother told the Tarrytown newspaper. “They wouldn’t take blacks and there were blacks fighting in the 369th Regiment. So mother started the Red Cross in our home.”

The 369th Infantry Regiment out of Harlem, NY had trained for battle in nearby Peekskill, NY, and my family knew some of its members. These were the black soldiers my great grandmother and her daughters had in mind when they started the Red Cross chapter in 1914.

Discovering an Unknown Gravesite

Surprise and frustration. That’s the only way to describe my feelings when I found out a few years ago that my great-great grandmother, Lucy Ann Jackson, who was born into slavery in Nelson Co., VA, my great-grandfather Clarence “Papa Jack” Jackson Sr., and my great-grandmother Addie “Momma Addie” Jackson were buried in Tarrytown’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery—not far from the gravesites of my grandparents and other relatives.

jackson headstone w: rg

Honoring the gravesite of my great-great grandmother and great grandparents

If I had known that these other ancestors were buried elsewhere in the same cemetery, I certainly would have visited their gravesite to reflect and leave flowers, just as I often did at the gravesite of my grandparents.

My grandparents—Henry and Virginia Nelson—were buried in the Lone Valley section of the cemetery, but I wanted to locate the graves of my great-great grandmother and great-grandparents who were buried in the Macpelah section. My first visit to the Macpelah section in May 2010 ended in frustration as the cemetery’s superintendent, Andrew Cupak, and I were unable to find my ancestors’ burial site. I wanted to make sure their grave had a proper headstone—and I wanted to leave a token of my love and appreciation. These were, after all, ancestors who, in the early 1900s, had been leaders of Tarrytown’s “colored” community—and who had become a tremendous source of pride and inspiration for me in recent years.

jackson headstone3 w: supt

Former Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Superintendent Andrew Cupak

Before I left that the cemetery that May day, Superintendent Cupak vowed to find my ancestors’ gravesite. When I returned 4-5 months later he had indeed found their burial site—and there was a headstone that he had had cleaned to ensure that it was in top condition when I saw it. I appreciated the superintendent’s efforts—and I was thrilled to finally be able to see, care for and honor my ancestors’ final resting place.

While this search for my ancestors’ gravesites ended a chapter of my pursuit of my family’s history, it also intensified a new one. Now, I was even more determined to learn more about what I consider some fairly remarkable ancestors, including a great-great grandmother who lived to be 114, a great-grandfather who in the early 1900s served as the personal assistant to the president of New York Central Railway, and great grandmother who was a political activist, a community leader and a respected spokesperson for Tarrytown’s “colored” people.

 

Great-great grandmother Lucy Ann Jackson was a 114-year-old celebrity

My great-great grandmother, Lucy Ann Jackson, was born a slave in Nelson County, VA in the 1822. In the late 1800s she moved to New York where she lived to be 114 years old. This news clip from around 1935 celebrates my great-great grandmother as being possibly the “oldest voter” in America. She lived in Tarrytown, NY at the time.

IMG_1188

 

Aunt Beatrice Comes to the Defense of the “Harlem Hellfighters”

The 369th Infantry Regiment, known initially as the 15th National Guard New York, was the first black infantry allowed to fight in World War I. The regiment was commanded by Col. William Hayward, a member of the Union League Club of New York, which sponsored the 369th in the tradition of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry, which the club had sponsored in the U.S. Civil War.

Known for their toughness, the Germans nicknamed them the “Harlem Hellfighters.” The most celebrated man in the 369th was Pvt. Henry Johnson, a former Albany, New York, rail station porter, who earned the nickname “Black Death” for his actions in combat in France. In May 1918 Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts fought off a 24-man German patrol, though both were severely wounded.

preview

My great aunt Beatrice Jackson defended members of the regiment against claims they were causing trouble at the “peek-a-boos.”

The 369th Regiment band became one of the most famous military bands throughout Europe. During the war the band (under the direction of James Reese Europe) became famous throughout Europe. It introduced the until-then unknown music called jazz to British, French and other European audiences.

Prior to shipping out to France in December 1917, the regiment trained at Camp Whitman near Peekskill, NY. While at the camp, members of the regiment would frequent a strip club (known back then as “peek-a-boos”) in nearby Tarrytown, NY. In a 1917 letter to the Tarrytown Daily News, my great aunt Beatrice Jackson defended members of the regiment against claims that they were causing trouble at the “peek-a-boos.”

Paying Tribute to a Remarkable and Talented Aunt

In recognition of Women’s History Month 2017, I wrote this post about my great aunt, Beatrice Jackson Conway. Like her mother, “Momma Addie” Jackson, my aunt was a leader with the Empire State Federation of Colored Women’s Club, whose motto was “Lifting As We Climb.” In 1917, Aunt Beatrice was an election poll watcher at a school in Harlem, NY for the Suffrage Party (see card below). That was the watershed election that eventually led to women winning the right to vote. An excellent writer, Aunt Beatrice had several letters published in the Tarrytown Daily News. She was also a soloist with the choir at Mother Zion A.M.E. Church in Harlem. Aunt Beatrice did all this and more by the age of 27, when she passed away due to complications from childbirth.beatrice graphic2

Uncle Wesley Jackson: World War I Volunteer and Writer

I want to salute my Grand Uncle Wesley Jackson. Uncle Wesley was the first born of my great grandparents “Momma Addie” Jackson and Clarence “Papa Jack” Jackson. In 1917, during WW I, he enlisted in the Army (his original enlistment card is below) where he was a cook, a common duty for black enlistees. While stationed at Camp Hill in Newport News, VA, Uncle Wesley, wrote a “Letter to the Editor” to his hometown newspaper, the Tarrytown (NY) Daily News. As you can tell by the excerpt below, Uncle Wesley was a gifted writer.Uncle Wesley GraphicFollowing his service in the Army and spending time in France as a member of the American Expeditionary Force,  Uncle Wesley was honorably discharged in 1919. He and would later work with the Civilian Conservation Corps in Whitehall, VT and Yorktown, VA. Uncle Wesley died in Appomattox, VA at the age of 46.

 

Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill! Momma Addie is Smiling.

tubman billMy great grandmother, Addie Jackson (or Momma Addie), knew Harriet Tubman. At least I’m pretty sure she did. Here’s why I say that. In the last years of her life, Tubman lived in Auburn, NY, where she’s buried, and her primary caretakers were members of the Empire State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Momma Addie was the financial secretary of the club at the time.Scan0219

The Tubman biography, “Bound for the Promised Land,” says this about the club’s care for Tubman when she was “penniless and ill” at about 90 years old: “Through the efforts of Mary Talbert (the group’s president), the Empire State Women’s Clubs also helped raise funds for Tubman’s care…”

The same biography also says this about Talbert’s relationship with Tubman: “Mary Talbert recalled her last visit with Tubman, about a month before her death. Tubman grasped her hand as she was about to leave, urging her to ‘tell the women to stand together for God will never forsake us.’ ”

Momma Addie: Activist, Organizer, Spokesperson

From serIMG-008ving as a spokesperson for “colored people” in her adopted hometown of Tarrytown, NY, to helping to found a statewide organization for black women, my great grandmother (Momma Addie) was an “activist” in every sense of the word.

As these newspaper clippings from the early 1900s show, Momma Addie’s (Mrs. Clarence Jackson) leadership on the local level included advocating for a community center for Tarrytown’s “colored” residents and chairing the town’s “Colored Republicantarrytown news Club.”

The town’s elected leaders would often turn to Momma Addie for her advice on community and racial matters. According to an early 1900s issue of the Tarrytown Daily News, a member of the committee set up to seek solutions to problems associated with the town’s rapid growth, said he “wished Mrs. Clarence Jackson, a member of the colored race and respected by both races, would give her views on the subject.”

Momma Addie used the opportunity to advocate for the needs of Tarrytown’s black community. “Theretarrytown paper is no recreation for colored boys and girls in Tarrytown. The Civic League does wonderful work, but outside of that there is no means of recreation for us,” she told the committee.

In 1914, Momma Addie would be elected the first president of Tarrytown’s fledgling Colored Community Center. The local newspaper called the establishment of the center “a long felt need among colored people for years.”

It should come as no surprise that Momma Addie and her contemporaries were Republicans. During the early 1900s, most blacks supported what was widely known as “the party of Lincoln.” As a Republican Party activist, Momma Addie helped organize forums to discuss the presidential candidacies of Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge.

Writing in a 2013 issue of Politico magazine, Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore and the former dean of the Howard University School of Law, discussed President Coolidge’s speech to the 1924 Howard University Commencement—and its impact on civil rights.

“The 30th president, Republican Calvin Coolidge, was a major supporter of Howard University and an overlooked figure in advancing the cause of racial equality in the United States,” Schmoke wrote.

Here is a segment of Coolidge’s commencement speech: “The nation has need of all that can be contributed to it through the best efforts of all its citizens. The colored people have repeatedly proved their devotion to the high ideals of our country. They gave their services in the war with the same patriotism and readiness that other citizens did …. The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored men from supporting the national cause completely failed.”