Jackson, Robert R.
Robert R. Jackson
Politician, entrepreneur, soldier
At a time in American politics when African Americans had a difficult time in getting elected and exerting any political influence, Robert Raymond Jackson was able to find a path into Chicago politics and gain recognition for African American voters. His experiences in the military during the Spanish American War and his efforts toward improved race relations supported his move into politics. Jackson became alderman for two Chicago wards and promoted issues important to the community. Once leaving politics his entrepreneurial interests took him into printing and into cooperative grocery work. Jackson's service as a joiner, leader, and military man made it possible for him to have an impact on the political visibility of African Americans in Chicago politics.
Robert Raymond Jackson, the son of William and Sarah Cooper Jackson, was born on September 1, 1870 in Malta, Illinois, but most of Jackson's childhood was spent in Chicago. As a youth Jackson sold newspapers and shined shoes in the business district to help him get as far along in school as possible. He eventually left school during the eighth grade and pursued full-time employment. In 1888, Jackson joined the National Guard as a drummer in the Eighth Regiment of Illinois volunteers. These soldiers fought in Cuba during the Spanish American War and came to be known as the "Famous Eight Illinois" infantry because of their African American commanding officer. During that time Jackson is noted for his organization of the Manana Club to improve relations between Cubans and African American officers. Jackson moved through the ranks and eventually earned the title of major.
Apart from the National Guard, by the time Jackson was eighteen he had secured a position as clerk in the post office. This was a much-coveted position for African Americans in 1889, since most jobs for blacks were in the service industry or as laborers. Jackson passed the civil service exam with an unusually high mark of 98.16 and maintained this level of performance on future tests. He worked as a stamping clerk and as a letter distributor. On May 31, 1885, he married Annie Green of Chicago and they had two children, Naomi and George Earl.
- Born in Malta, Illinois on September 1
- Joins the National Guard, "Famous Eight Illinois," attaining the rank of major
- Becomes postal service clerk
- Retires from postal service as assistant superintendent
- Wins election to state legislature as a Republican
- Secures funding for Emancipation Golden Jubilee
- Becomes alderman, Second Ward District for Chicago City Council
- Becomes alderman, Third Ward District for Chicago City Council
- Leaves politics and becomes commissioner of Negro American League
- Dies in Chicago, Illinois on June 12
After over twenty years with the postal service, Jackson resigned in 1909 having earned the position of assistant superintendent of Armour Station. Next Jackson started a printing and publishing business, the Fraternal Press. He pursued other ventures, too, such as secretary of the Chicago Giants Baseball Club; director and auditor of the African Union Company, which dealt in African merchandise; director of the Fraternal Globe Bonding Company; and military writer and authority for text books issued by U.S. officers. He and partner Beauregard F. Mosley co-founded in 1910 the Leland Giants. Jackson later went on to own the Columbia Giants professional baseball team.
In addition to his successful postal career, military career, and publishing business, Jackson became very active in fraternal and volunteer organizations. He was listed in the city directory in 1923 with memberships in nearly all of Chicago's fraternal orders, including the Appomattox Club, Elks, Knights of Pythias, Dramatic Order of Knights of Omar, the Odd Fellows, the American Wood, the Royal Arch, and the Masons. He participated in establishing the first cooperative grocery in the African American community in Chicago. He also participated in over twenty-five volunteer organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and the Young Men's Christian Association. White and African American candidates would speak to members of these organizations during primary and election campaigns to secure votes. Jackson's involvement and exposure in these groups along with his career in postal service and the rank of major in the National Guard provided the network and credentials for him to enter politics in 1912.
After defeating two Democrats, a fellow Republican, and a Progressive candidate, Jackson was elected as a Republican to the state legislature from the Third Senatorial District. Getting elected was an accomplishment in itself as discriminatory practices in the election process made it difficult for African Americans to enter the political arena. Once Jackson was elected, the same limitations made it difficult for him to influence decisions that were not specifically related to racial issues. He spoke out against prohibiting intermarriage and helped to stop legislation that reduced African American workers on the railroads. He was able to ban from Illinois theaters racist films such as The Clansman and The Birth of a Nation. Jackson secured funding for Chicago's 1913 Emancipation Golden Jubilee celebration. However, beyond issues regarding race, Jackson had little to no influence on the state legislature.
In February 1918, after six years as a state legislator, Jackson ran for alderman for the Second Ward District to the Chicago City Council. He ran against former county commissioner Oscar DePriest who even though acquitted on charges of conspiracy and bribery, still had six other indictments unresolved against him. DePriest was a race man and was well liked by the community, while Jackson had the backing of the state senator George F. Harding and Congressman Madden. Jackson won by a narrow margin. In 1931 with the rezoning of Chicago's wards, Jackson had to move south to secure a legal residence. With this change he was elected to alderman for the Third Ward District to the city council.
Jackson's role as alderman in the Republican Party and the overall political scene regarding African Americans made far reaching reform difficult. Leadership in the Republican Party, headed by Mayor William Hale Thomson (1915–23 and 1927–31), promoted vice and corruption, which allowed even less opportunity for reform. The result for most African American politicians was a style of politics that catered to white dominated organizations and public work projects. Jackson was able to secure major projects such as a park, a library, a playground, and minor improvements in services such as a system of milk inspection. With the migration of African Americans to the North in the 1920s and 1930s, the ability to provide voting blocks to various parties was essential.
Southern African Americans still identified Republicans with Abraham Lincoln, and Democrats with the Old South. Although this alignment gave more influence to Republican African American politicians, it did not allow for any further opportunities for reform. Jackson and other African American politicians continued to have minimal impact on issues other than race. As more African Americans moved into the Democratic Party, Jackson eventually lost his seat on the city council in 1939. The style of politics in Chicago at that time was seen by activists in the 1960s as plantation politics, which resulted in votes for recognition and power within the African American community but few changes that imparted political and social opportunity and equality. Although reform was not accomplished on a level that most had envisioned for African Americans during the time, politicians such as Jackson were able to secure some consideration in an environment of staunchly imposed limits.
After leaving politics, Jackson returned to his love of baseball. He became commissioner of the Negro American League for two years. He was elected president of the league for three terms and was serving as president of the New Negro Baseball League at the time of his death. Jackson continued to pursue opportunities for the African American community as he sold the city on the idea of erecting a tablet commemorating Chicago's first citizen, Jean Baptiste Point De Sable, a person of African descent. On June 12, 1942 Jackson suffered a stroke and died. He was survived by his wife Hattie Ball Lewis and son George Earl.
Drake, St. Clair, and Horace R. Clayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & Company, 1945.
Gosnell, Harold. Negro Politicians: The Rise of Negro Politics in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1935.
Who's Who of the Colored Race. Vol. 1. Chicago: Who's Who in Colored America Publishing, 1915.
Yenser, Thomas, ed. Who's Who in Colored America. 6th. ed. Brooklyn: Thomas Yenser Publisher, 1942.
Obituary. Chicago Defender, 20 June 1942.
Lean'tin L. Bracks