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Jesse Jackson

(1908—1983)


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(1908–1983), children's book author, journalist, and lecturer.

Born 1 January 1908 in Columbus, Ohio, Jesse Jackson attended local schools and completed three years at Ohio State University's School of Journalism (1927–1929) before dropping out to work on the Ohio State Press. Jackson experienced a wide variety of jobs, including stints as an Olympic hopeful in boxing, a boxer in a carnival, a soda-jerk in Atlantic City, a juvenile probation officer, an employee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (1951–1968), and a lecturer at Appalachian State University (from 1974).

While working as a juvenile probation officer, Jackson realized the need for books that would interest nonreaders, as well as address the social issues facing African American teenagers. Jackson was assigned the case of three fourteen– to sixteen-year-old African American youths who had been sentenced to life terms in the Ohio State Penitentiary for robbing a restaurant and killing the owner for five dollars. While investigating their case, Jackson discovered that the boys had dropped out of school because they were too embarrassed to tell their teachers that they could not read. Call Me Charley, Jackson's first and most popular novel, was published in 1945 as a result of his perception of a lack of appropriate reading material for African American youths. In the novel, Jackson addresses the problems faced by one African American teenager, Charles Moss, and his attempts to be accepted by his white classmates after he and his parents move to an all-white suburb. Call Me Charley predated the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision by nine years and focused on the need for people of different races to get to know each other as individuals in order to eliminate stereotypes. Many of Jackson's other books addressed the issue of relations between African American and white youths as well. Jackson wrote two sequels to Call Me Charley, Anchor Man (1947) and Charley Starts from Scratch (1958), as well as other works of fiction, Room for Randy (1957), Tessie (1968), and Tessie Keeps Her Cool (1970). Jackson also wrote several biographies for children, including two about Stonewall Jackson, The Sickest Don't Always Die the Quickest (1971) and The Fourteenth Cadillac (1972). Jackson received the National Council for Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Award twice, in 1973 for Black in America: A Fight for Freedom (1971) and in 1975 for Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord: The Life of Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel Singers (1974). Jackson's novels and biographies paved the way for more explicit writing about race relations in children's and young adult literature and gave African American writers an audience that had, in large measure, previously been denied them. Jackson died on 14 April 1983 in Boone, North Carolina.

Ruby J. Lanier, “Profiles: Call Me Jesse Jackson,” Language Arts 54.3 (Mar. 1977): 331–339.“Jackson, Jesse” in Something about the Author, vol. 29, ed. Anne Commire, 1982, pp. 111–114.

Barbara Lowe

Subjects: Literature.


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