Centennial Celebration of Esther Cooper Jackson – A Living Legend

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Central Brooklyn's Royalty: Lifelong friends Esther Cooper Jackson, 100 (seated), and Dorothy Burnham, 102, celebrated Ms. Jackson’s Aug. 21 birthday last Saturday, August 26 at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center. Ms. Jackson, a staunch civil rights activist, is a founding editor of Freedomways literary journal published in Brooklyn from 1961- 1985. Ms. Burnham, a native of Brooklyn, made notable contributions to our public education system, the advancement of civil rights and the promotion of racial and economic equality. At the celebration, Dr. Brenda M. Greene, Professor of English and Executive Director, Center for Black Literature, Medgar Evers College/CUNY, presented Ms. Jackson with a poster rendering of the school’s Esther Cooper Jackson Book Collection.

“Art is only important to the extent that it aids in the liberation of our people.”

Elizabeth Catlett 

“There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.”

  1. E. B. DuBois

“You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

    Maya Angelou

Yes, I want to know what will your legacy be? This is a question that I would like to put to each and every one of you?”

    Margaret Burroughs

Your legacy is powerful and inspirational.

  • Founding Editor of the leading cultural, political and intellectual journal Freedomways magazine.
  • A tireless defender of civil rights, human rights, social justice and international rights.
  • An advocate for those who were “prophets in their own country”.
  • A documentarian for our historians, sociologists, educators, novelists, artists, musicians and poets.

Your work has created a legacy for our youth activists and underscored the embodiment of what it means to live the purposeful life.

Resistance has been in and defined your spirit.

You have demonstrated that struggle is a part of life and that we can all engage in what activist and hip-hop artist Talib Kweli calls, “A Beautiful Struggle”.

Happy 100th Birthday 

Dr. Brenda M. Greene & Dean Richard Jones

On Saturday, August 26, I had the privilege of attending the 100th Birthday Celebration of Esther Cooper Jackson, a longtime and tireless advocate for civil rights, human rights and social justice.   Esther Cooper Jackson, born August 21, 1917, celebrated her 100th Birthday with family, friends and colleagues at the W.E.B. DuBois Research Institute located at The Hutchins Center for African & African-American Research at Harvard University, an appropriate place to host the celebration. W.E.B. DuBois, a friend and colleague of Esther Cooper Jackson and her husband James E. Jackson, Jr., was the inspiration for and one of the founders of Freedomways, A Quarterly Review of the Freedom Movement. Esther Cooper Jackson was managing editor of Freedomways for 25 years, following the journal’s first general editor, Shirley Graham DuBois.

During the celebration, Ms. Jackson shared how Dr. W.E.B. DuBois was “. . . a humanist and mentor who instilled in me the commitment to social justice and equality”. She underscored how Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Shirley Graham DuBois continued to have an influence on the life of her and her husband and how they corresponded after Dr. DuBois and Shirley Graham DuBois relocated to Ghana at the invitation of the late Kwame Nkrumah.

The Honorable Julian T. Houston, retired Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court, Executive Committee member of the Justice George Lewis Ruffin Society, and nephew of Esther Cooper Jackson, in reflecting on her life, recounted how W.E.B. DuBois and Shirley Graham DuBois provided support for Esther and her daughters, Harriet and Katherine, when her husband, James Jackson, went underground during the McCarthy era for five years after being targeted by the government for his activities related to the Communist Party.

I had the privilege of meeting Esther Cooper Jackson in 2014 when the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College honored her as part of its National Black Writers Symposium on Audre Lorde. The center presented Ms. Jackson with an award for her lifelong dedication to literature and freedom. When I called Esther to confirm the time that I should pick her up from her home for the program, she held me on the phone while she wrote the information down in her appointment book. I knew that I was about to meet an incredible woman, a sharp and wise chronicler who regaled me on the drive to Medgar Evers College and later in her interview on my radio show, Writers on Writing, with stories of her work with the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) and with the writers and activists with whom she had worked and/or who had written for Freedomways: people such as Alice Walker, John Oliver Killens, Dorothy Burham, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, James Baldwin, Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and many others. She informed that she regretted that she could not attend as many intellectual, cultural and political programs as she desired and I specifically remember talking about how traveling to a program at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture which featured David Levering Lewis, a close friend and colleague.

It was indeed an unforgettable moment when I later received a phone call from Esther’s daughter, Harriet Scarupa, who informed me that Esther Cooper Jackson wanted to donate her collection of African-American literature to the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. The Esther Cooper Jackson Personal Book Collection on African-American Culture is now housed in the Charles Evans Innis Memorial Library at Medgar Evers College. I presented Ms. Jackson with a poster and photos from the exhibit at her 100th Birthday Celebration.

In attendance at the Birthday Celebration were Ms. Jackson’s longtime friend and activist Dorothy Burham (102 years old), who made notable contributions to public education, civil rights, women’s rights and the promotion of racial and economic equality; Margaret Burham, University Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University in the fields of civil and human rights, comparative constitutional rights and international criminal law, and  founder of the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project; Dr. David Levering Lewis, historian, Julius Silver University Professor of History at New York University and Pulitzer prize-winning author of the biography of W.E.B. DuBois; Dr. Mary Louise Patterson, pediatrician and editor with Evelyn Louise Crawford of Letters from Langston: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Red Scare and Beyond; James Steele, Special Assistant to Congressman Meeks and his wife Brenda Steele; Bernice Green, co-founder of Our Time Press; and Claudia Loftis. Ms. Jackson’s daughters, Harriet Jackson Scarupa, a retired journalist; Katherine A. Jackson, a retired psychologist; her grandson, Dr. Mark Scarupa, a physician; and in-laws and nephews were also among those in attendance.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James sent a letter and proclamation in honor of Esther Cooper Jackson and those who could not attend sent remarks. Among them were Timothy Johnson, Director of the Tamiment Library at NYU which houses books on Marxism from the personal collection of Esther Cooper Jackson and Dr. Henry Louis Gates; Alphonse Fletcher, University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University.

 

By Dr. Brenda M. Greene, Executive Director of the Center for Black Literature

Professor of English and Department Chair

Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York