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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

 

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.”

Grand Central Railroad hires a chauffeur and a wise “advisor”

“Papa Jack” on the staff of railroad president A.H. Smith (seated on left) in 1920. My great grandfather is the good-looking 55 year old on the right.

After migrating to New York state from his birthplace in southwestern Virgnia, my great grandfather, Clarence C. Jackson, settled in Tarrytown, a village served by the Hudson River Railroad. The railway line linked New York City and Albany and was one of the many railways that started and terminated at Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. The Hudson River line gave “Papa Jack” easy access to New York City–and  job opportunities.

In 1892, at the age of 27, my great grandfather landed a job as a messenger with New York Central Railroad, whose offices were in Grand Central Station. He worked directly for the railroad’s president Chauncey Depew. In 1898, Depew stepped down as president of the railroad when he was elected U.S. Senator from New York. “Papa Jack” would work as a messenger for subsequent presidents of the railroad, eventually rising to the position of chauffer and personal assistant to A.H. Smith when he presided over New York Central Railroad (1914 -1924) during its heyday.

New York City’s Grand Central Station around 1915

I can imagine my great grandfather and his boss discussing their families, the war, race relations and an assortment of other topics during the ride from Smith’s estate in Westchester Co., N.Y,  to his office at Grand Central Station. And it’s not a stretch to believe that the opinions and perspective of the wise and God-loving “Papa Jack” may have influenced some of the important decisions made by Smith, one of the most powerful men in America in the early 1900s.

I know that “Papa Jack’s” daughter, Virginia Jackson Nelson, had no problem giving people “advice.” Trust me on that, she was my grandmother.

My great grandfather retired on July 31, 1935 after working for eight of the railway system’s presidents. An article published in the Tarrytown Daily News the day before “Papa Jack” retired read: “Mr. Jackson met many dignitaries from all parts of the world” during his 42 years as an employee of New York Central Railroad.

I don’t know if they realized it at the time, but the ”dignitaries” who met my great grandfather met a man who was a ”dignitary” in his own right.