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Esther Cooper Jackson

Esther Cooper Jackson (born August 21, 1917 in Arlington, Virginia[1] ) is an African-American civil rights activist, former social worker and, along with Shirley Graham Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edward Strong, and Louis E. Burnham, was one of the founding editors of the magazine Freedomways, a theoretical, political and literary journal published from 1961 to 1985.[2] She was married to James E. Jackson (1914–2007), an influential labor activist.

Esther Cooper Jackson
Born (1917-08-21) August 21, 1917 (age 102)
Arlington, Virginia
Occupationcivil rights activist, social worker
Known forFreedomways


Jackson came from a family active in their community. Throughout Esther's youth, her mother served as President of the Arlington branch of the NAACP and was involved in the struggle for civil rights, particularly in efforts to achieve equality in the quality of children's education.[3] Esther attended segregated schools as a child but went on to study at Oberlin College and to earn a master's degree in sociology from Fisk University in 1940.[4] Her 1940 thesis was "The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism." Upon graduation, she received a Rosenwald Fellowship to support a study on the attitudes of black youth toward World War II. She had been planning to conduct the study as part of her studies for a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago. Her life went into a different direction when she instead decided joined the Southern Negro Youth Congress.

Of her upbringing and family, Jackson recounted:

Our parents always told us that if we got the grades, and passed the tests, that they would make sure that we would go to any college of our choice. So, they didn't go in for a lot of expensive furniture or anything else - we had lots of books, and at home reading of poetry, we had the Harvard Classics and all that. Their values were passed on to us.[5]

After graduate school, Jackson became a member of the staff of the Voting Project in Birmingham, Alabama for the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC). While working with SNYC she met her future husband James E. Jackson. In an interview with Ian Rocksborough-Smith in 2004, Jackson explained that her husband James Jackson and the SNYC had in 1937 helped tobacco workers in Virginia successfully agitate for an 8-hour day and pay increases. The tobacco workers held the first strike in Virginia since 1905, and their gains, according to C. Alvin Hughes, "helped SNYC earn a following among the black working class in the South".[6] Originally intending only to stay for one summer, Jackson remained in Alabama for seven years, engaged in the struggle to bring down Jim Crow segregation. For seven years as a prominent leader of SNYC, Esther Cooper Jackson worked with her husband, James Jackson, a prominent labor organizer and Marxist theoretician, Louis and Dorothy Burnham, Ed Strong, Sallye and Frank Davis – parents of the Davis sisters, Angela and Fania – and numerous others, conducting many campaigns promoting the rights of Blacks and poor whites. SNYC's agitation for the integration of the public transportation systems was expected of the work it did digging the Southern soil which became important in preparation for the struggles later on in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1952, she moved to New York City. She turned 100 in August 2017.[7]


In New York of 1961, Jackson became managing editor of Freedomways, [created by Esther Jackson, along with Louis Burnham, Jack O'Dell from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, writer Lorraine Hansberry. Freedomways was the central theoretical journal of the 20th century black arts and intellectual movement in the United States. From its launch in 1961, it attracted historians, sociologists, economists, artists, workers, and students to write on Black History, heritage, and culture. Jackson would call "a tool for the liberation of our people."[3] Freedomways was a globally influential political, arts and intellectual journal that published international poets such as Pablo Neruda and Derek Walcott, articles by African leaders including Kwame Nkrumah, Julius K. Nyerere, Agostinho Neto, and Jomo Kenyatta and Caribbean leftists like C. L. R. James, as well as African-American authors such as James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Paul Robeson, Nikki Giovanni, and Lorraine Hansberry. The most prominent African-American artists like Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Elizabeth Catlett contributed cover art gratis to support the magazine, which was read worldwide. Uniting the Southern and Northern US civil rights struggles of the 1960s with an international viewpoint taking in Pan-Africanism and other cultural and political currents, the magazine is often viewed as a precursor of the Black Arts Movement.[8]

See alsoEdit


  • "The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism", M.A. Thesis, Fisk University, 1940, excerpts reprinted Viewpoint Magazine 5 (October 2015).
  • This is my husband: fighter for his people, political refugee, National Committee to Defend Negro Leadership, 1953.
  • Esther Cooper Jackson and Constance Pohl, Freedomways Reader: Prophets in Their Own Country. Interventions—theory and contemporary politics (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000).


  1. ^ Cosby, Camille (2007). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Washington Square Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-0822350507.
  2. ^ "Freedomways (1961-1985)",
  3. ^ a b Interview with Esther Cooper Jackson, New York Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.
  4. ^ "Upon These Shoulders: Happy 100th Mrs. Esther Cooper Jackson ..." Retrieved 2018-03-10.
  5. ^ Interview with Esther Cooper Jackson, New York Voices of the Civil Rights Movement video.
  6. ^ Rocksborough-Smith, Ian, "Bearing the Seeds of Struggle", MA thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2005.
  7. ^ Staff (2017-08-25). "Upon These Shoulders: Happy 100th Mrs. Esther Cooper Jackson ..." Our Time Press. Retrieved 2017-09-11.
  8. ^ Haviland, Sara Rzeszutek (2015-10-19). "The Communist Party USA and Black Freedom in the 1950s". James and Esther Cooper Jackson. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 153–186. doi:10.5810/kentucky/9780813166254.003.0006. ISBN 978-0-8131-6625-4.

Further readingEdit

  • Dayo Gore, Jeanne Theoharis, Komozi Woodard, (editors) Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle (New York: NYU Press, 2009)
  • Michael Nash, African-American Communists and the Origins of the Modern Civil Rights Movement' (Routledge, 2009)
  • Sara Rzeszutek Haviland, James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement' (University Press of Kentucky, 2015)
  • Erik McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Duke University Press, 2011)
  • McDuffie, Erik (2011). Sojourning for freedom : black women, American communism, and the making of black left feminism. Durham NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-5050-7.

External linksEdit