Community Activist | Class of 2022
The late Gertrude Newsome-Jackson was born November 7, 1923, in Madison, Illinois, to Rev. Mitchell Newsome and Lillie Reed Newsome. When she was only seven years old, her family moved to Gum Bottom, an area near the Turner community in Phillips County, Arkansas, where her father returned to assist his mother with the small family farm after his father’s death. She walked nine miles each day to attend a one-room segregated school through the eighth grade after which she attended the all-black Marvell High School that only went up to the tenth grade. In 1944, she married Earlis Jackson. The couple ran a small farm near her family’s homestead and reared their eleven children, two of whom preceded her in death.
Jackson became a community activist. In 1965, her community service intensified after numerous futile attempts were made to push the Marvell School Board to rectify plumbing problems at the segregated school in Turner, after which her husband organized the Black residents to boycott the school. News of the action hit the state newspapers and drew the attention of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The group descended upon Jonesridge, Arkansas, and helped to orchestrate a grassroots civil rights movement to desegregate the Marvell School District. The six-week boycott of the Marvell School District was successful.
Of course, the Jacksons’ efforts were met with retaliation. They were subjected to an onslaught of organized intimidation and harassment efforts, some also life-threatening when shots were fired at Jackson from a passerby. Instead of thwarting the Jacksons’ efforts, they became more determined to demonstrate their angst with the system by organizing successful boycotts of the County Fair and the local Greyhound Bus Station, a strategy of “Hit them where it hurts.”
Jackson worked for Mid-Delta Community Service, Inc., an educational and charitable non-profit organization established in 1966. She served Monroe and Phillips counties as a home start and later a head start teacher.
The Jacksons initiated a series of lawsuits against the Marvell School District No. 22, and the final ruling by the United States Court of Appeals Eighth Circuit ordered the school district “to fully and effectively desegregate not only all facilities but the faculty and classes effective at the beginning of the 1970-71 school year.”
In 1978, Jackson partnered with other community leaders to establish the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center (BGACDC). Their mission was to develop the full potential of all poor children of every race and their families by addressing the social, educational, housing, health, and economic needs of low-income youth and families in Phillips County. Well into her eighties, Jackson served as a BGACDC ambassador and acquired grants from Kellogg, the Rockefeller Foundation, and countless donations from benevolent givers.
Jackson’s honors and recognitions include a panel lecture with the Little Rock Nine; a Smithsonian Institute video interview now archived in the U.S. Library of Congress and the National Museum of African American History & Culture; an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from UA Little Rock; letters from former Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, U.S. presidents Clinton and Obama; a feature in an issue of National Geographic Magazine; and a feature in Sowing Seeds of Justice, a book of interviews and photographs of ten African American Arkansas women.