Esther Cooper Jackson

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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.


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. Her 1940 thesis was "The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism."

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.[4]

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".[5] 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.

In 1952, she moved to New York City.


In New York, Jackson became managing editor of Freedomways, which she 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.

See also[edit]

  • Morris Childs (article has photo showing James E. Jackson, Jr.)


  • "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).


Further reading[edit]

  • 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)

External links[edit]