Emory Overton Jackson was a man “born for battle” and a “roll-up-your-sleeves kind of journalist” during a crucial period in history, said author Kimberley Mangun, during a lecture Jan. 19 in Birmingham.
Mangun is author of “Editor Emory O. Jackson, the Birmingham World, and the Fight for Civil Rights in Alabama, 1940–1975,” published in 2019.
She delivered the 17th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture at the Linn-Henley Research Library, co-sponsored by the Birmingham Public Library and the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists.
Mangun’s research, which took 10 years, reveals an editor who wrote columns and editorials for the twice-weekly Birmingham World and delivered hundreds of talks to civic, fraternal and college groups, said Mangun, an associate professor of communications at the University of Utah.
“Jackson did some teaching and eventually decided the classroom was just too confining for him,” she said. “The Birmingham World offered him a platform for documenting terrorism and opportunities to advocate civil rights and civil liberties.”
Jackson, a trailblazer and pioneer, dedicated his life to advocating for disenfranchised black people. He was the founder and first president of the Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He wrote about voter registration, poll tax deadlines, NAACP meetings and legal battles against segregated schools, neighborhoods and transportation.
Jackson’s stories had statewide and national impact, Mangun said. He wrote in 1952 about the University of Alabama rejecting the admission applications of Pollie Ann Myers and Autherine Lucy because of their race.
“One thing I found interesting about Jackson is that he continued to advocate for people and issues long after stories had stopped being newsworthy by journalistic standards,” Mangun said. “For example, the UA story essentially ended in 1956 when Lucy finally won her court case but was subsequently expelled from the university, yet Jackson continued to praise her and Myers at speaking engagements and in columns for decades afterwards.”
In many ways, Jackson was a journalist ahead of his time, Mangun said. The crusading editor kept detailed records of officer-involved shootings, she said.
“Today, websites like MappingPoliceViolence.org and media organizations, including The Washington Post, compile data on officer-involved shootings much as Jackson did beginning in the early 1940s with the limited resources available to him,” Mangun said.
Nothing puts Jackson’s work into perspective “more powerfully than a stack of 3-by-5 index cards, 3 inches high, rediscovered in the recesses in the City Hall basement in 2012 as Birmingham prepared to observe the 50th anniversary of its civil rights history,” she said.
“The cards contained the names of the officers who were allegedly involved” in police shootings, she said. “Some mentioned the reason for the shooting such as resisted arrest or tried to escape. Many include the words ‘justifiable shooting,’ ‘justifiable homicide’ or ‘murder.’”
Jackson wrote extensively about violence in Birmingham during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when there were 34 bombings plus seven frightening near misses of black-owned homes, businesses and churches.
“Jackson decried the violence time and again and he called city officeholders to arrest the offenders,” Mangun said. “He also contacted the elected officials and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to urge them to protect Birmingham’s black citizens ‘from the malicious destruction of property.’”
Jackson and Clarence Mitchell, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, went so far as to meet with the DOJ in 1950.
“Jackson sought a federal investigation into the ongoing violence that was occurring here and in other Alabama cities,” Mangun said. “He submitted information to the deputy attorney general showing that police had killed 52 black men since 1948. Half of the slayings had occurred in Birmingham. Black lives mattered, Jackson said again and again, decades before the present-day social movement began.”
Jackson was born in Buena Vista, Georgia, before his family relocated to Birmingham, where he was raised with his seven siblings in the Enon Ridge neighborhood on the west side near Birmingham-Southern College. He attended Industrial High School (later named Parker High School) and in 1928, Jackson enrolled in Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where he was president of the student government association and editor of the newspaper, The Maroon Tiger.
Jackson continued to edit the Birmingham World until Sept. 10, 1975, when he died at the age of 67.
This story originally appeared on The Birmingham Times’ website.