Jackson, Daniel M.

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Daniel M. Jackson

Gambling house owner, funeral director

Daniel M. Jackson was undoubtedly the most powerful African American vice lord ever known to Chicago's black community. He was educated, thoroughly criminal, generous to African Americans in need, political, and civic-minded. Jackson, a quiet, savvy man, ran several gambling houses out of his funeral parlors; at the same time he sacrificed his own profits to help blacks that lacked money for a proper burial.

Donald McKee Jackson was born September 9, 1870 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He came to Chicago in 1892 with his father Emanuel, and brother, Charles, and together they opened a funeral parlor at 26th and State streets in Chicago's Second Ward.

By the time Jackson arrived in Chicago, he had graduated from Lincoln University, in eastern Pennsylvania. He and the family ran the Emanuel Jackson Undertaking Company until tension developed with his father. Because of the increased population and the concurrent lack of public health regulations, a variety of professional groups developed. Within the ranks of embalmers, casket manufacturers, funeral directors, and burial policy agents, professional associations formed to insure that funeral industry standards were met. Jackson was one of the first African Americans to use the most up-to-date undertaking techniques in his business. Standardization in the funeral business did not lead to impersonal or ethnically identical services. Black funeral companies even benefited from the prejudice of some white funeral parlors that did not like to handle blacks.

Engages in Legitimate and Illegitimate Businesses

Jackson relied on gambling for a large part of his income. A crackdown on gambling in 1923 by a new face in the mayor's office, Democrat William Dever, severely reduced Jackson's profits. Because of the Great Depression and a deteriorating economy, Jackson sought a partner, and he and Otto Stevenson, a black entrepreneur, joined forces to provide a burial insurance service to Chicago's Bronzeville residents. Jackson did the funeral services and Stevenson sold insurance. The Metropolitan Funeral System Association (MFSA), as the company was called, continued an earlier tradition of mutual aid and beneficial societies to provide funerals to those with limited incomes. Working-class citizens received affordable funerals, prompt payment of claims, and inexpensive premiums (15 cents paid in for each dollar paid out), and the arrangement allowed recent immigrants the opportunity to return their deceased to the South for burial.

The premium that subscribers paid per policy was inexpensive and did not provide enough money to cover the cost of a funeral. When the MFSA started to falter, Stevenson lacked the personal income needed to keep the company solvent. When Stevenson departed, Jackson was unwilling to let the company dissolve, believing that it provided a useful service to needy clients. Jackson perhaps owed his solvency to the money that came his way when he married Lucy Mott, the sister of gangster Robert T Mott, in 1925. As a result, Jackson subsidized the company until Robert M. Cole joined it in 1926.


Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 9
Moves from Pittsburgh to Chicago with his father and brother; family opens the Emanuel Jackson Undertaking Company
Works in William Hale Thompson's mayoral campaign
City crack-down on vice depletes Jackson's operating capital
Marries Lucy Mott, sister of gangster Robert T. Mott; establishes the Metropolitan Funeral Home Association with Robert M. Cole
Sells the Metropolitan Funeral Home Association to Cole for $500; retains position as MFHA's funeral director
Appointed as the acting Republican committeeman for Second Ward
Appointed to the Illinois Commerce Commission; dies in Chicago

Jackson hired Cole, former railroad porter-in-charge, to manage his mortuary business. The two probably became friends as a result of their mutual interest in gambling. Jackson and Cole established the Metropolitan Funeral Home Association (MFHA) in 1925. After Cole joined the business as manager, Jackson continued to tend the service end of the business himself. In 1927 Cole asked Jackson to sell him the business which he did—for $500.

Cole reorganized the MFHA and later renamed it the Metropolitan Mutual Assurance Company. He hired two former associates of Jackson, professionals who restructured the company's policies. First, premium charges were restructured and college-trained businessmen managed the accounts. Between 1927 and 1931, Cole had poured $18,000 of his gambling profits into the business to keep it afloat. Although Jackson retained his position as MFHA's funeral director, Cole, until his death in 1956, was the real force behind the company. The firm narrowly survived the Depression, but, by the end of World War II, it was a profitable and smoothly operating business.

If Jackson viewed the MFHA as his own private charity, he had no such view of others' businesses. In the Second Ward and parts of the Third, he was known as the uncontested vice-lord of Chicago's African American settlement. Throughout Prohibition, except for two brief periods, Jackson controlled blind pigs (speakeasies or places that sold alcohol illegally), prostitution, gambling, and policy (betting) wheels. From Second Ward operations in liquor and gambling, Jackson's bagmen collected about $500,000 per year—and from the Third Ward and adjacent areas, another $200,000. Jackson's secretary, Carter Hayes, collected protection money—approximately 40 percent of the proceeds—from each of the illegal games in operation. Jackson's men also shook down pool halls, saloons, and cabarets that operated craps, poker, and blackjack games and sold gin and whiskey on the premises. The quiet, shrewd Jackson ran several gambling houses. Two were located in his funeral parlors and a third in the Pekin Theater building.

Becomes Interested in Politics

During the racial strife of 1919, Jackson began to take an interest in politics. Shortly before the 1919 victory of William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, Jackson became active in politics. Thompson was not unknown to Jackson since Thompson had lived near the Jackson family mortuary. Jackson was impressed with Thompson's address to Second Ward voters during his first run for mayor. The thrust of his campaign hinged on his willingness to provide jobs and stay out of vice operations (mostly controlled by Jackson) in exchange for votes in the ward.

Jackson campaigned for Thompson in Chicago's African American community. Since Jackson consistently donated a percentage of his gambling profits to the less fortunate in the community, he helped secure votes for Thompson, who claimed that African Americans had the right to self-determination. Thompson's campaign rhetoric aimed at black gambling gained him the staunch support of voters and ward-level political candidates. So successful was Thompson at securing local offices for his constituents that his detractors began to call him the "Second Abraham Lincoln" and referred to city hall as "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Republican Mayor Thompson, like Jackson and partner Cole, believed that African Americans should have access to wide-open gambling, prostitution, saloons, and policy betting. Since such entertainment was generally segregated, many Second Ward voters believed that this was reason enough for them to run their own vices wide open. After an investigation of his operations, Jackson was summoned to city hall and forced to shut down; however, many of his establishments soon reopened and started to thrive again under the protection of local law enforcement.

In 1923 the state attorney's office dispatched another team to investigate South Side vice. The investigation resulted in the second closing of all illegal vice operations. Although most gambling parlors, saloons, and policy games closed, Jackson's stayed open, and most of Jackson's cohorts returned to business. Thompson decided not to run for mayor again in 1923; so Jackson's supporters urged him to back Democrat William Dever, hoping to negotiate a deal with him that would protect Jackson's gambling interests. The mayoral race in 1923 was complicated by harsh accusations against Arthur Lueder, the Republican candidate, from both the Jackson syndicate and the Dever faction. The Dever faction tried to undercut Lueder, by accusing him of Ku Klux Klan sympathies, prejudice against blacks, and other race-related activities. The bad publicity Lueder received may have influenced Jackson's decision to vote for Dever. In the 1923 election, emotions ran high and Jackson, feeling insecure perhaps about Dever's policies, may have forced his way into polling booths and may have threatened voters and Second Ward voting officials.

After Dever's election, Jackson's supporters saw their worst nightmare come true. Dever closed Jackson's operations for the duration of his term in office. Jackson and his cohorts threatened to oust Dever—which in effect they did—by reelecting Thompson to a second term in 1927. By this time, voters and gamblers alike were becoming disaffected. The prices they paid Jackson for protection were draining them since they often took in less than they paid out. Much of the money they paid was used by Thompson for his America First cronies who were running in the 1928 primaries. The America First Party goals were to keep American troops out of Europe and other foreign countries and to encourage self-determination.

Thompson's second and third terms brought back and reinforced the South Side's former open gambling policy and rewarded Jackson's efforts on behalf of Thompson. Jackson, who had never held a political office, was appointed acting Republican committeeman in 1927 for the Second Ward and was then elected to the position in 1928. He also received from Governor Len Small an appointment to the Illinois Commerce Commission, shortly before his death, in 1929. When Jackson died, an indictment for fraud and gambling was still on file against him.

Jackson, the Anomaly

Jackson was an anomaly—a soft-spoken man who ran a mortuary and did so even after the business lost money so his clients could receive just the kind of funerals they wanted. He was kind to his associates and gave them help in starting businesses, and he stood up for those he believed in. As an example of that faith, Jackson remained a supporter of Thompson long after others believed that Thompson used them for his own political advancement. Jackson was also persuasive and not above using his political power to get what he wanted. He had ties to mobsters and his business and political dealings were outside the law, yet Jackson seems to have believed in certain positive values, such as self-determination.



Drake, St. Clair, and Horace Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harper&Row, Publishers, 1962.

Gosnell, Harold F. Negro Politicians: The Rise of Negro Politics in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.


Adkins, Brian. Black Business in the Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925–1985. http://www.eh.net/bookreviews/library/0055.shtml (Accessed 13 March 2006).

Cogwell, Henry. "By the Numbers: A Look at Chicago's Policy Racketeers Part I." http://www.geocities.com/jiggs2000_us/article.html (Accessed 13 March 2006).

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                              Lois A. Peterson

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Jackson, Daniel M.

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