Reverend Joseph H. Jackson

Civil Rights through Law and Order

Chicago History Museum

Autographed photo of J. H. Jackson (1966-09-28) by Koehne StudioChicago History Museum

Reverend Joseph Harrison Jackson was a renowned African American pastor and civil rights leader of the twentieth century. Jackson left his mark through activism focused on education, housing, and both economic and political equality for African Americans. Born in Mississippi in 1900, Jackson moved to Chicago to further his graduate studies and pursue his career as a pastor and activist. Throughout the 1900s, Jackson became prominent in both religious and political spheres within the United States and several other countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.

Photo of Maude Thelma JacksonChicago History Museum

Jackson's wife, Maude Thelma Jackson, was also involved in many of his efforts and was often welcomed and honored at the same events. They married in 1927 and had one daughter, Kenny Jackson.

Jackson's master's thesis (1933) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

After graduating from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson went on to graduate school at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, for a degree in education. At Creighton, Jackson wrote his master's thesis on the role of religion in character development. This belief in the importance of religion in early childhood development would continue throughout Jackson’s career.

Jackson's master's thesis page 2 (1933) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Jackson's "The Negro's Declaration of Intention" (1956-04-03) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

In 1956, Jackson published this pamphlet to educate the public about the goals of his community. Based off interviews with African Americans from various backgrounds, Jackson states that the main intention of the “Negro” is to respect and obey the law. Jackson believed strongly in the pursuit of justice through order and democracy rather than more direct protest tactics.

Certificate of Life Time Call (1958-12-29) by Olivet Baptist ChurchChicago History Museum

In 1941, Jackson became the head pastor at the historic Olivet Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. Olivet was a staple of the Bronzeville community during the Great Migration, between 1916 and 1970, when masses of African Americans fled the South to escape horrific violence and discrimination. The church provided education and housing resources for many of these folks who came to the North with few opportunities or connections. In 1958, Jackson received this official certificate of a Life Time Call as Olivet’s head pastor.

Olivet Baptist Church day care center graduationChicago History Museum

Maintaining his dedication to education, Jackson helped open the J. H. Jackson Education Building in August of 1962. Seven years later, the center housed a fully-staffed day care that served the members of Olivet Baptist Church.

Olivet Baptist Church's day care center case notes (1986-06-09) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

In November 1983, however, the US Department of Labor accused the day care of violating the Fair Labor Standard Act of 1938. By 1986, the case had hit a wall, and Jackson grew tired of the interruptions to services provided by the center.

Olivet Baptist Church case notes page 2 (1986-06-09) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Olivet Baptist Church case notes page 3 (1986-06-09) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Letter to Attorney Serritella (1986-01-22) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

In this letter to his attorney, James A. Serritella, Jackson separates himself from the case once and for all. Jackson writes that there was no case to be made by the Department of Labor, as had been shown by their repeated inspections and lack of evidence.

Letter to Serritella page 2 (1986-01-22) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Chicago Defender front page (1954-11-27) by Chicago DefenderChicago History Museum

The day care center case was one of many controversies Jackson was involved in. In 1954, sixty longtime members of Olivet Baptist Church accused Jackson of using the church’s funds to purchase an eight-bedroom home, furnishings, and a car for his personal use. In response, Jackson threatened to cast out the members who had accused him—a move that was quickly stopped by a judge.

Jackson's 45th anniversary at Olivet Baptist (1986) by UnknownChicago History Museum

Despite both incidents, Jackson remained a beloved figure of Olivet Baptist Church. Jackson was celebrated at nearly every anniversary of his pastorate by church members, as shown in this photo taken at his forty-fifth anniversary. Jackson was head pastor of Olivet for nearly fifty years.

Jackson with President Lyndon B. Johnson (1964-09-29)Chicago History Museum

Jackson was also known among the political elite. In this photo, Jackson hands a copy of his new book, Many But One, to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

National Baptist Voice front page (1973-03) by National Baptist ConventionChicago History Museum

In March 1973, Jackson wrote this article for the National Baptist Convention’s official newspaper, the National Baptist Voice, commending president Richard Nixon for ending US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Letter from President Ronald Reagan (1986-02-21) by Ronald ReaganChicago History Museum

Jackson also exchanged letters with President Ronald Reagan at various points. In this letter from 1986, Reagan thanks Jackson for his "Call for National Unity" of 1965 that was meant to bring together different groups of people to defend democracy.

Jackson's campaign for presidency of the NBC (1953)Chicago History Museum

Jackson’s accomplishments were not limited to his time at Olivet Baptist Church. In 1953, the National Baptist Convention elected Jackson as their president—a position Jackson would hold for thirty years.

Jackson at Moscow Baptist Church (1956)Chicago History Museum

As president of the National Baptist Convention, Jackson traveled extensively to receive awards, give sermons, and meet with politicians and other religious leaders. In this photo, Jackson reaches through a crowd to a woman after a service at Moscow Baptist Church while visiting the USSR.

Photo of Joseph H. Jackson Library (1973)Chicago History Museum

Jackson also helped open the Joseph H. Jackson Library as a property of the National Baptist Convention to promote literacy and education for the African American Baptist community.

82nd annual National Baptist Convention (1962-09-04/1962-09-09)Chicago History Museum

In 1962, the eighty-second annual National Baptist Convention was held in Chicago at the Coliseum, a venue famous for hosting legendary speakers such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. The theme of the convention was how to engage peace movements as a religious organization.

78th annual National Baptist Convention program (1958-09-09/1958-09-14) by National Baptist ConventionChicago History Museum

Successes of the National Baptist Convention, such as the Freedom Farm in Tennessee and building relations with religious organizations in Liberia, are highlighted in these programs from the 1958 and 1962 annual conventions. Among the sermons given were “From Protest to Production,” a developmental tactic promoted by Jackson, and “The Church and the Rights of Man.”

82nd annual National Baptist Convention program (1962-09-04/1962-09-09) by National Baptist ConventionChicago History Museum

Jackson's National Baptist Convention speech (1966) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

At the 1966 annual National Baptist Convention, Jackson delivered this speech on civil rights activism. Directly after the Chicago Freedom Movement in the summer of the same year, Jackson condemned the use of nonviolent civil disobedience. Jackson opposed direct action and believed that social change should be pursued democratically through law and order.

National Baptist Convention speech page 2 (1966) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Handwritten notes on "The Bondage of Freedom" by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Despite critiques of his tactics from the African American community, Jackson claimed that the youth of the 1960s and 1970s were misguided. In these undated sermon notes, Jackson wrote that young people believe freedom is found outside the community elders’ rules and that civil disobedience grows out of a protest of previous traditions.

Notes on "The Bondage of Freedom" (cont.) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Chicago Defender article (1957-12-03) by Chicago DefenderChicago History Museum

Jackson’s unusually long tenure as president of the National Baptist Convention was controversial. In 1957, Jackson’s presidency was challenged by those who claimed that election votes had been miscounted. Some members of the NBC threatened to march 10,000 strong in Washington, DC, to show their support for Jackson.

Progressive National Baptist Convention program (1978-08-06/1978-08-13) by Progressive National Baptist ConventionChicago History Museum

Before King’s death, he and Jackson clashed frequently. In 1961, King and other supporters of Gardner Taylor helped campaign for Taylor as president of the National Baptist Convention. When elections came around, there was a dispute over the results that led to an all-out brawl in which Reverend A. G. Wright was fatally injured. Afterward, Jackson ousted King and those who had opposed his leadership, a move which pushed them to start their own Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC). This official program from the seventeenth annual meeting of the PNBC in 1978 calls for courage in moving forward in the civil rights movement toward progress.

Jackson's "The Creative Use of the Past" by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

In 1968, Jackson delivered this speech in which he recognized the complications of the past, specifically Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophies. Jackson wrote that while King was talented, his push for civil disobedience was violent because it ignores the need for “tolerance” and “fellowship.”

"The Creative Use of the Past" page 2 by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Jackson's statement on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Despite their differences, Jackson wrote this memorial statement highlighting King’s legacy and successes after his assassination in 1968. Still, the break in the National Baptist Convention caused a great shift within the African American Baptist community. Jackson continued to lead the NBC after the split.

100th annual National Baptist Convention (1980) by Bill Ricker, Lancer PhotographyChicago History Museum

The one hundredth annual National Baptist Convention was held in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1980 where the theme was “A Century with Christ.” Jackson’s annual address discussed the origins of the NBC in Birmingham, the initial missionary purpose of the convention, and an acknowledgement of the founding fathers’ continuous struggles.

Jackson's address at National Baptist Convention (1980) by Joseph H. Jackson/National Baptist ConventionChicago History Museum

Jackson's unpublished manuscript by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

When Jackson passed away, he was in the process of writing a book. Chapter eight of that unpublished manuscript covers the protests and unrest in Chicago during the summer of 1966 when a nonviolent campaign called the Chicago Freedom Movement, led in part by King, fought for housing rights for African Americans. Jackson wrote that the larger issues of the city are crime and violence, and that the African American community is an essential part of Chicago that needs to progress together. The chapter emphasizes Jackson’s disagreements with direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience, beliefs he would hold until his passing in 1990.

Jackson's unpublished manuscript (cont.) by Joseph H. JacksonChicago History Museum

Photo of Joseph H. Jackson (1966-09-28) by Koehne StudioChicago History Museum

Reverend J. H. Jackson remains a key figure in the narrative of the civil rights movement. The arguments that Jackson made are still discussed in the struggle for Black liberation today. Despite controversy, Jackson represents traditions that remain a part of the Black community and deserve recognition. There is much to learn about activism from Jackson’s career—lessons that are sure to be used as the fight for racial equality continues.

Credits: Story

Special thanks to the following individuals who made this Google Arts & Culture exhibit possible:

Tanya Calvin
National African American Museum of History and Culture
Robert Frederick Smith Internship and Fellowship Program
Julie Wroblewski
Julius L. Jones
Heidi Samuelson
Timothy Paton Jr.

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