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Jackson, James A.(1878–1960) - Editor, journalist, promoter, Chronology, Promotes Black Entertainment in Billboard Magazine

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Aversatile man, James A. Jackson worked through three highly visible arenas to promote black cultural and economic development. As editor of the Negro Department of Billboard magazine, he was a major influence in promoting black theatricals during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He was also well-connected with black and white professional, commercial, and industrial groups and, due to his work with the U.S. Department of Commerce, was regarded as an eminent advisor on African American business activities. He traveled widely and aided and encouraged black commercial development and encouraged industrial training to prepare youth for commercial enterprise. As a public relations specialist of Standard Oil Company, Jackson became one of the first African American salespersons of the mid-1930s to promote his business in the African American market.

In 1773 a group of Quakers who had bought the Jackson family’s freedom from Portuguese traders in Portsmouth, England, brought the Jacksons to America. They settled in the area later known as Centre County, Pennsylvania. Before his marriage, James Jackson’s father, Abraham Jackson, was engaged in show business as a member of the McMillen and Sourbeck Jubilee Singers, a commercial singing group formed in Bellefonte. Later on, but before the group became widely known as the Stinson’s Singers, Abraham Jackson left the singers and married. James Albert Jackson was born in Bellefonte (sometimes spelled Belfonte), Pennsylvania, on June 20, 1878, to Abraham Valentine and Nannie Lee Jackson—the oldest son of their fourteen children.

Chronology

1878

Born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania on June 20

1896

Leaves home to study and support himself; joins Ed Winn’s Big Novelty Minstrels around this time

1900

Becomes journalist for Today newspaper in Detroit

1902

Becomes first black bank clerk with the Chicago Jennings Real Estate and Loan Company

1904

Joins U.S. Railroad police around this time

1912

Heads investigation and inspection for Standard Life Insurance Company; begins newspaper work for the New York Globe

1919

Becomes editor of the Negro Department of Billboard magazine; writes “Jackson’s Page”

1920

Writes articles for the New York Sunday Herald

1921

Writes articles for Chicago Defender

1927

Becomes first head of Negro Affairs for U.S. Department of Commerce

1934

Becomes first black marketing specialist for Esso Standard Oil Company

1940s

Becomes first black member of the American Marketing Association

1960

Dies in New York City on November 15

James A. Jackson was educated in Bellefonte’s public schools and Bellefonte High School. In 1894–95 he worked as a reporter for two local newspapers, the Bellefonte Daily Gazette and the Daily News , apparently over the objections of his mother. Jackson is quoted in The Colored Situation as saying that, when he was fourteen years old, his mother refused to permit him to learn newspaper work. She also refused to allow him to work with a local white doctor who wanted him to learn medicine, for “she was sincere in her belief that there was no place for a Negro in either calling,” he said. His mother was familiar with only four African American newspapers, and they were small, two-sheet publications for which she had no respect. Likewise, she knew little about the accomplishments of blacks in medicine and had known of only two doctors—one in Washington, D.C., and another in Chicago. “I longed to be an editor,” he continued, and his persistence toward fulfilling his ambition paid off. Meanwhile, the large Jackson family put a strain on the family’s income. James Jackson left home around 1896 to earn money on his own and to continue his education. He appears to have moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he continued to write. He also worked as a bellboy and dining room employee in Cleveland’s Hollender Hotel. There he met Richard B. Harrison, later a dramatist and college arts instructor, who taught him elocution.

Around this time Jackson became an advance man for Ed Winn’s Big Novelty Minstrels and also sought out feature players. When Winn’s show closed, Jackson had to find other ways to support himself and pursue his education. It is unclear if he attended college. He spent his winters earning enough money to support his summer school work. With a firm knowledge of show business and some education, he became a good representative for the minstrel shows. He appears to have traveled with minstrels between 1896, when he first left home, and 1900. In that year he worked with Richard and Pringle’s Georgia Minstrels, featuring Billy Kersands. Around 1900 as well, he was a journalist for Today , an afternoon newspaper in Detroit. He left for Chicago a year later and took a civil-service examination. Since the results were slow to come, he spent much time in Daddy Love’s place, located at the corner of 27th and State Street. Actors gathered there between seasons, and Jackson met and became friendly with many of them.

In 1902, Jackson accepted a post as bank clerk with the Chicago Jennings Real Estate and Loan Company, becoming the first person of color in the state to hold such a post. When off duty, he was part-time usher at the famous Pekin Theater and on hand for its historic opening in 1904. It was the first black-owned theater in the country and became important for stage productions and concert series. It was also the home of the Pekin Stock Company, the first black theatrical stock company.

Jackson passed the civil-service examination and for a number of years was a member of the U.S. Railroad police. As a road officer, he traveled throughout the country to investigate various cases; one of them was the infamous Harrison Gang. Headed by Jeff Harrison, the Harrison Gang was involved in what was called the “World’s Greatest Train Robbery.”

In 1912 Jackson was in charge of investigation and inspection for Standard Life Insurance Company. Jackson went on to engage in newspaper work for the New York Globe (1912), the New York Sunday Herald (1920), and the Chicago Defender (1921). According to Henry T. Sampson in Blacks in Blackface , his two best serial works were published in the Globe : “The Negro at Large” in 1912 and “The Underlying Cause of Race Riots” in 1919. The New York Sun published several of his feature stories in 1921 and the New York Herald carried others in the magazine section of its Sunday edition. He collaborated with other authors and published in national magazines and foreign newspapers. During World War I, Jackson was one of the two agents-in-charge of the U.S. Military Intelligence Bureau and worked in the “Plant Protection” section.

Promotes Black Entertainment in Billboard Magazine

According to Blacks in Blackface , at some time in the 1920s Jackson was owner/manager of two theaters in Columbus, Ohio—the Empress (for motion pictures) and the Dunbar (for vaudeville, or road shows). By age forty in 1918, Jackson had joined the editorial staff of Billboard in New York City, then the largest theatrical paper in the world, and was so prominent in his work as editor of the Negro Department that he was given the nickname “Billboard.” Jackson was the first African American reporter hired by a major white theatrical magazine. Billboard hoped to increase its circulation by tapping a new market, and Jackson helped make the magazine popular among black entertainers. Beginning with the November 6, 1920 issue, he wrote a regular column called “Jackson’s Page”; the black press copied his articles, adding the byline “Billboard” Jackson. According to Bruce Kellner for The Harlem Renaissance , “by 1919 he had become the most widely read black show-business newspaperman in America.” His work brought him in contact with many black luminaries, including those of the Harlem Renaissance.

Through the magazine Jackson celebrated the achievement of blacks in the entertainment industry and also helped them to set high moral standards. He encouraged performers to join theatrical organizations. He exposed the conditions surrounding those involved with the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA), a large employer of black entertainers, by airing the unfair treatment they received. His writings stimulated the formation of several professional organizations, such as the Colored Actors’ Union, the National Association of Colored Fairs, and the Deacons. For his page, Jackson collected information on all aspects of entertainment, including the circus, burlesque, music and opera, street fairs, and vaudeville. He published several annual surveys of the industry, presenting data that he compiled. Thomas Fletcher wrote in 100 Years of the Negro in Show Business that “his record of achievements … [was] one of the most imposing anywhere.” He served Billboard from 1919 to 1925 when lack of advertising forced retrenchment. While in that post, he was also executive correspondent in New York for Claude Barnett’s Associated Negro Press, which led to his next post, this time in the business arena.

Jackson, Jesse L., Jr.(1965–) - Politician, minister, Wins Bid for Office, Chronology [next] [back] Jackson, Isaiah(1945–) - Conductor, Makes Orchestral Debut in Europe, Chronology

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3 months ago

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over 5 years ago

Wow, what an article. I've lived in Centre County, PA for 11 years now and am trying to learn its history.. By bits and pieces, I am finding out that blacks contributed much to the historical, cultural, and business success of Bellefonte. Need more articles on their contributions which, hopefully, will be available to school children when they learn local history.

Thanks.