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Jackson, Mae

Mae Jackson

1941–2005

Social worker, politician

Mae Jackson made a name for herself as mayor of Waco, Texas. When she died suddenly on February 11, 2005, she left many friends and admirers stunned and grieving. Chet Edwards, Waco's Democratic representative to the state House of Representatives, voiced the feelings of many when he said, "Our city has lost a caring, dedicated leader, and many of us have lost a dear personal friend. Waco is a better community today because of Mae Jackson's unselfish public service, and for years to come, her warm spirit of loving thy neighbor will inspire all of us."

A social worker by profession, Jackson continually exceeded the duties of her job in her efforts to improve the society she lived in. An enthusiastic advocate of volunteer work, Jackson not only promoted volunteerism, but also volunteered many hours of her own time to a wide variety of community organizations. As the first African American to be elected mayor of the City of Waco, Jackson proved to be an energetic and confident leader. In addition, her straightforward honesty and generosity were an inspiration to those who knew and worked with her.

Mae Jackson was born on September 10, 1941, in the east central Texas town of Teague. Despite the difficulties of growing up in a segregated Southern town during the 1940s and 1950s, Jackson determined a successful course for her life. Jackson learned the value of education early. Her father worked as a school principal, and her mother was a teacher; with their encouragement, Jackson became an enthusiastic student. In 1958 she graduated as valedictorian of her class at Booker T. Washington High School, and the following fall she left Teague, moving south to start college in the city of Houston.

College served Jackson well in the changing times. Jackson earned her Bachelor of Science degree at Texas Southern University, a historically black institution. After graduating from TSU in 1962, Jackson moved south to the city of San Antonio to continue her studies in graduate school at Our Lady of the Lake University. Jackson chose OLLU because of its masters program in social work. Jackson had been drawn to the idea of serving others as a young girl, and chose social work as her career.

Worked in Civil Rights Movement

While Jackson studied to earn her Masters of Social Work degree, the civil rights movement took on more and more momentum. Inspired, Jackson moved to Washington, DC, in order to join the movement. There she started work with the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a progressive women's service organization that had been founded in 1935 by African-American educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune. In 1957, presidency of the NCNW had passed to another energetic black organizer, Dorothy Height. Height would become Jackson's mentor.

Height was president when Jackson went to work with the NCNW. The two had much in common. Like Jackson, Height was a social worker who believed passionately in justice and community. Also like Jackson, Height was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and had served as its national president from 1947–1956. Jackson had joined Delta Sigma Theta while a student at TSU, perhaps attracted by the sorority's reputation for service to the community.

Height became a friend to Jackson during her years in Washington. Along with her job at the NCNW, Height was also an administrator at the Harlem YWCA in New York City, where she worked hard to provide a place of safety and empowerment for young black women. Inspired by Height's work, Jackson would become an advocate for the YWCA throughout her career. Together, Height and Jackson also worked on a program called "Wednesdays in Mississippi," where interracial teams of women from the North made weekly trips to racially torn Mississippi to offer help and support to those working for civil rights in the Southern state.

Began Active Career in Waco

After working with the NCNW in Washington for two years, Jackson returned to Texas. She remained a member of the NCNW for life and continued the type of activist public service she had learned from working with Height. Over the next several decades Jackson lived in the city of Waco, Texas, and did enough work to fill several careers. As a caseworker, she provided direct social services to clients in need, focusing especially on children's mental health and supporting at-risk families. She also taught various elements of social work at a number of colleges and universities, among them Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Paul Quinn College, and the University of Texas at Austin and at Arlington. In addition, she volunteered her services in many community organizations, including Center for Action Against Sexual Assault, the Laura Edwards Day Care Center, the Mental Health Association, the Waco Boys Club, and the Waco Symphony Association. For ten years, she was producer and host of KWTX-TV's Minority Forum.

Jackson even found time in her busy schedule to return to school and earn her doctoral degree. In 1985, she received her PhD from the University of Texas in Arlington. Even her thesis, titled "A Structural and Functional Analysis of Voluntary Governing Boards in Not-For-Profit Human Services Agencies," showed the continuing value she placed on volunteer work.

Jackson's lifetime of service work did not escape the notice of those in political power. In 1985 Texas Governor Mark White appointed her as vice chair of the Governor's Commission for Women, a position she held for two years. In 1991, Governor Ann Richards, a progressive politician known for appointing women and minorities to government positions, named Jackson to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. She served as a member of the Executive Board until 1997.

Entered City Government

Her work within these governmental organizations led Jackson to believe that she could further her goals of improving her community by serving in Waco's city government. In 2000 she ran for and won the position of District 1 representative on the Waco City Council. Jackson's personal experiences of racism and poverty, and her experiences working in a broad range of organizations allowed her to build bridges between people with very different goals and beliefs. She served two terms as an effective council member before running for the office of mayor in 2004, winning easily against four other candidates.

At a Glance …

Born Mae J. Jackson on September 10, 1941 in Teague, TX; died February 11, 2005, Waco, TX; married Dillard Huddleston; children: three. Education: Texas Southern University, BS, 1962; Our Lady of the Lake University, MSW, 1965; University of Texas at Arlington, PhD, 1985.

Career: Caseworker in state and private social service agencies; Governor's Commission for Women, vice chair, 1985–87; Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Executive Board member, 1991–1997; City of Waco, City Council, District 1 representative, 2000–2003; City of Waco, mayor, 2003–2005.

Selected memberships: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, life member; Emily's List, Majority Council; National Association of Negro Women; National Federation of Democratic Women; National Association of Social Workers.

Selected awards: Robert L. Gilbert Community Service Award, 1987; Waco Chamber of Commerce and General Motors, Athena International Award, 1991; Blue-bonnet Girl Scout Council, Women of Distinction Award, 1994; Texas Association of Social Workers, Lifetime Achievement Award, state and local, 2003; Texas Democratic Women, Outstanding Officeholder Award, 2005 (given posthumously).

In May 2004, Jackson became the first elected black mayor of Waco. Her chief goal as mayor was to make Waco a better place for all its citizens by improving basic services, such as water quality, and promoting economic development with increased tourism and a renovated downtown area. She continued to build bridges by initiating the Community Vision Project, an outreach program designed to get input from all communities about the needs of their citizens.

On February 11, 2005, Jackson was taken to the hospital with chest pains. She died the same day, possibly due to a blood clot near her lungs or heart. Her husband and three children survived her. She had remained active and vibrant until the day of her death, defending the rights of the vulnerable and promoting strong, stable, and just communities.

Sources

Periodicals

Houston African American, February 23, 2005, p. 7. Waco Tribune, February 13, 2005.

On-line

"African American History in the West Vignette: Mae J. Jackson," University of Washington, http://faculty.washington.edu/qtaylor/aa_Vignettes/jackson_mae.htm (February 13, 2006).

"Jefferson Awards: Mae Jackson-Huddleston." KWTX, www.kwtx.com/unclassified/1347637.html (February 13, 2006).

"Wake to Be Held Monday for Late Waco Mayor Mae Jackson." KWTX, http://www.kwtx.com/home/headlines/1258847.html (February 13, 2006).

Wiggins, Mimi, "Mayor Mae Jackson, 63, Dies Suddenly," Baylor University, www.baylor.edu/Lariat/news.php?action=story&story=22623 (February 13, 2006).

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