In August 2019, the Washington Informer newspaper published an article I wrote on the role that black women played in winning voting rights for women in New York state. My great grandmother, Addie Jackson, was one of the black women at the forefront of that effort. She’s singled out in a recent book on the women’s suffrage movement in NYS. Here’s the full Washington Informer article.
When voters in New York rejected a 1915 measure that would have given women in that state the right to vote an undaunted coalition of the state’s suffragist groups didn’t skip a beat. Led by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, they immediately began preparing for another referendum.
Two years later, in what is widely considered a watershed moment in the women’s suffrage movement, voters in New York state approved a referendum giving women there voting rights.
“Historians of the national suffrage movement suggest that the New York passage marked a pivotal point in the struggle for women’s votes because once New York enfranchised its female citizens, the emphasis of the movement shifted away from state-by-state campaigns to the federal campaign,” Susan Goodier and Karen Pastorello wrote in their 2017 book, “Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State.”
The coalition that came together to win voting rights for women in New York state included the Negro Women’s Business League and the Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs, an affiliate of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC).
“Virtually every African American women’s club in the state advocated for suffrage regardless of the ostensible purpose of the organization. Black women, like white women, saw the vote as a panacea, able to solve their specific problems relating to racial violence, education, employment, and workers’ rights,” Goodier and Pastorello wrote in the introduction to their book.
My great-grandmother, Addie Jackson, was an active member of the Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs, serving for several years as the organization’s financial secretary in the early 1900s. Goodier and Pastorello had this to say about my great grandmother in their book. “Any study of women of color confounds our understanding of class. The suffrage activist Addie Jackson, for example, took in washing and ironing, ‘day’s work,’ or housecleaning, in the Brooklyn area during the 1880s. Her class status improved significantly over the decades, as illustrated by her mobility and volunteerism.
“By the 1910s she lived in Tarrytown, and the New York Age noted her as a participant in a number of activities related to suffrage and other activism. She also attended the fifth annual meeting of the Empire State Federation of Women’s Clubs in Buffalo for a two-day session in July 1913. Members of the club made sure that the New York Age announced its support for woman suffrage.”
In preparation for the 1917 vote, suffragists and their male supporters spread out across New York City and the state of New York to campaign for the referendum. One of the black women who registered to work on behalf of the Woman Suffrage Party was Addie Jackson’s daughter, my great aunt Beatrice Jackson.
Though just 22 years old at the time, Aunt Beatrice understood the significant role that black people could — and would — play in the suffrage movement. She wrote this in a Letter to the Editor published in the Tarrytown (N.Y.) Daily News. The letter was in response to blacks not being allowed to participate in a local Y.M.C.A. talent show.
“Every nationality was represented in the show except the negro. In fact the negro is never thought of until election. The negroes’ vote can decide suffrage. They were not needed for the show, but their vote is.”
On Nov. 6, 1917, Aunt Beatrice was a poll watcher for the suffrage party at an elementary school in Harlem, NY. On that day, a measure that would amend the New York state constitution and give women the right to vote won by 113, 000 votes.
“When New York women won the right to vote in 1917, they changed the national political landscape. The victory was a critical tipping point on the road to a constitutional amendment,”Huffington Post contributor Louise Bernikow, who has written extensively about the campaign to gain voting rights for women in New York state, told the blog New York Rediscovered.
A graduate of Howard University, Roger S. Glass is a former staffer for the Washington Afro-American newspaper. He recently retired after more than 30 years as a writer and editor for the American Federation of Teachers.
A piece of my family history was recently included in the New York Times’ 1619 Project. My entry (posted below) is a 1936 newspaper article about my great-great grandmother Lucy Ann Jackson. Enslaved on a plantation in southwest Virginia until shortly after the Civil War, my great-great grandmother was identified in that 1936 article as the nation’s “oldest voter” at the age of 114.
American slavery is said to have begun in August of 1619 when a ship carrying 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia. The 1619 Project recognizes the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery and highlights the many contributions of the enslaved African–and those that followed in their footsteps.
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.
Constable 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.”
When my great uncle Clarence Channing Jackson Jr. took a position with the Baltimore 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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”