First Peek into the Reverend J.H. Jackson Papers

(By Katie Obriot: BMRC Processing Intern)


The Reverend J.H. Jackson Collection is through and through a civil rights collection. Jackson is perhaps best known as the president of the National Baptist Convention (NBC) – the longest term in the history of that organization – and for his feud with Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. resulting in the separation of the NBC in 1961. Through processing his papers it became clear early on that his work and personal life overlapped or rather that his life was his work and his worship. Handwritten notes, speeches, addresses, general writings, and correspondence can be found throughout the collection and reveal his passion for humanity. Below is a handwritten address transcribed for this blog post, a mere snapshot of his immense writings:

Written in Philadelphia, November 1978

The Writer’s Position

In a sit-in all are involved. It demonstrates or indicates that we have taken too seriously the old polarization of Caucasian and Negro, white and black. And in the light of this polarization, I fear we as a race have spent too much time at the white man’s door, knocking, protesting, complaining, and venting our resentment and our anger. We are aware that the battle against race prejudice in America is a major one. The drive against the high wall of discrimination and second class citizenship are difficult and of primary importance. This struggle must continue.

But not all of our troops for this aspect of our life struggle must or should remain in the old position on that firing line where there is the Caucasian – Negro, or white – black encounter. The mistakes and errors are not restricted to white Christians, to white Americans, some of the errors that plague America and the churches of America are found in all the races and peoples including this writer, many leaders of the race, and all others.

What then must the spirit be? All have sinned. All have brought some social guilt and moral gloom upon the U.S. social order. We must go on contending for the right, opposing the sins in our American system, but not forgetting to confess the sins in our own race, our own homes, our own communities, and in our own minds, hearts, and souls.

We must now concentrate some of our efforts on issues and problems where the race faces the race. There must be a new evaluation of the untapped resources among us and the unharnessed talents within us.

The sins within the race must be faced frankly and confessed. The errors of judgment must be assessed and we must learn a greater appreciation of ourselves as individuals and as a group. A climate in the U.S. that tends to exempt our race from criticism, and to blame the social order for all our mistakes, by that thrust reduces our race to a second class position in this democratic social order. People of character and worth should carry the weight of their responsibility, and take the blame for their wrong choices or for making no choices. We are entitled to know the truth, to be told the truth, and to be held to the consequences whenever the true principles of life are ignored or sinned against.

Away with that demand for the unity of the race that invoke silence against our known errors and failures. This is no time for the making of false heroes and pseudo leaders of the race made by a biased white press. Reject and reject we must those members of our race who appear as saints among white observers and expect to be our spokesmen and standard by which we are judged. When among us, they are enemies of their brothers, and hypocrites to the manner born.

The true test of negro leaders are not those who use us for support and backing, and as a threat to the white community if the white leaders do not do what they say and give them what they want, the true leaders of the negro race are selected by their own people because of the love and respect they have won among them. And they will respect and honor their own people and will avoid bringing shame or disgrace upon them.

Negros will not and cannot be blessed by those eloquent speakers who council their Negro brothers to curse the white people on whom such hypocrisies secretly rely for financial aid and support.

Beware of those Negroes who take out membership in Negro and white conventions, when they honor and support the latter, and come to the former to display the disrespect, and all within their power to pull the Negro group down to the dust of same.

Is your outburst and disorder the result of your ostracism, and your commonness received from a group that tolerates you, but has no real place for you?

Those who make the supreme sacrifice to make their own churches and conventions as great and as meaningful as possible do so because they have no other one to which to turn as a refuge from intimidation, embarrassment, and confusion.

People who love their church or their convention have no difficulty following and respecting leadership. It is no grave sin to leave a church that you do not love whose pastor you cannot respect, if said pastor is the choice of the majority who can respect and honor him as pastor.”

-Joseph H. Jackson


Reverend J. H. Jackson papers (Chicago History Museum) handwritten piece on civil rights in the United States, November 1978, box 24.