Raised in Marvell, Arkansas
Gertrude Jackson and her husband, Earlis, of Marvell, Arkansas were advocating for themselves and their community before SNCC came to town. At the age of 7, Mrs. Jackson had moved from Madison, Illinois to a small family farm in Gum Bottom, Arkansas. Her new school was entirely-Black and had one room for grades kindergarten through eight. Her and Earlis, a World War II veteran and plumber, married in 1944, and they began farming their land in the Jones community south of Marvell.
Nearly ten years after the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, the Jackson’s children attended the still segregated Turner Elementary School. Mrs. Jackson recalled her children exclaiming, “Ooh, the [school’s] bathroom flooded today,” and “Ooh, mama, that water getting bad. We can’t drink this water.” After several complaints from her children, Mr. Jackson decided to check things out for himself and found numerous issues with the school’s sewage system. It was during her husband’s investigation of the school that Mrs. Jackson met Howard Himmelbaum and Myrtle Glascoe of SNCC.
The SNCC workers encouraged the Jacksons to bring their grievances to local school board members. Mrs. Jackson remembered that they “faced staunch opposition from the board.” On their way home from a meeting, Mr. Jackson suggested a boycott, “You know if I could get people to take their children out of school I bet they’d fix it.” The Jacksons, along with local volunteers, canvassed the neighborhood, knocking on doors and encouraging parents to take their children out of the school until they fixed the plumbing issues. As a result, nearly 250 children were pulled from the school during the winter of 1966.
While the Jacksons welcomed and appreciated SNCC, Mrs. Jackson emphasized that this was not a SNCC action. “They didn’t start it…my husband made up his mind himself.” Following the Turner School Boycott, Mrs. Jackson continued fighting for educational opportunity. Eventually, she went on to teach for Head Start before establishing the Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center in Marvell in 1978. “My thing was education, because I wanted more head starts,” she explained, “I wanted every child in the district to have seen a book before they go to school.”
Grif Stockley, Ruled Race: Black/White Relations in Arkansas From Slavery to the Present (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2008).
Jennifer Jensen Wallach, and John A. Kirk, eds. Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011)
Interview with Gertrude Jackson by LaFleur Payson, November 22, 2010, Civil Rights History Project, Library of Congress.
“Gertrude Jackson: Sixty Years of Work for Social Justice,” Joel E. Anderson Institute, University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Randy Hogan, “UALR to Recognize Marvell Activist,” Helena Arkansas Daily World, December 4, 2012.
SNCC, News of the Field #1, Feb. 23, 1966, SNCC News of the Field, SNCC papers, ProQuest History Vault.