- President of National Baptist Convention from 1953 – 1983
- Pastor churches in Mississippi, Nebraska,Pennsylvania,Illinois
- Represented Protestanism in the Second Vatacan
- Published six books from 1950 – 1980
- Member of fraternity Phi Beta Sigma
Joseph Harrison Jackson was born in Rudyard, MS in 1900. He worked as a farmhand in his youth while teaching himself to read and write. From his own efforts, he was able to attend Jackson College now Jackson State University. Later he earned a degree in Divinity and a Masters in Theology. He then began preaching all over the nation.
After pastoral appointments in Omaha and Philadelphia, he became pastor of Olivet Baptist Church on the Southside of Chicago in 1941. From this position at a very prestigious church, he was able to make his first bid for the presidency of the National Baptist Convention (NBC) in 1953.
Jackson is best known as an opponent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Baptist Church. In the beginning, their relationship is amicable. Jackson was often a house guest of King when he visited Atlanta. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 Jackson not only supported the movement in word, but he also gave $2000. However, by 1960 Jackson had misgivings on the Nonviolent Direct Action aspect of the Civil Rights Movement.
By the 1960’s the Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA) focused more on willing breaking the law. In 1961, Albany, GA campaign thousands of people went to jail, and Albany failed to desegregate. The job market already discriminated against Black people. All these people were adding to their hardship by accruing criminal records. Many questioned if NVDA was worth the risk.
In addition, to the practical aspect of the risk of the NVDA, there was concern that it was not moral and patriotic to knowingly break the law. The Bible implores Christians to respect the law of the land. Also, as Americans blacks should want to promote peace and tranquility in the country we live.
Jackson prescribed that in addition to legal action blacks concentrate on self-improvement and economic collectivism. Blacks should search for and exploit opportunities given to them now. Instead of sit-ins to integrate a lunch counter, Jackson would prescribe community funding our own restaurant. Booker T Washington also endorsed bootstrap patriotism, and Jackson was part of the Washington tradition.
The old strategy of fighting Jim Crow through the courts had brought some victories. Brown v Board did determine school segregation was unconstitutional. The decision did not require anyone to go to jail. The previous pace of ending Jim Crow was not fast, but blacks were marching forward.
Tensions came to a head when Jackson attempted to get a fifth term as president of the NBC. The original NBC charter forbade a president from seeking a fifth term. A group lead by Pastor Taylor opposed Jackson. King and his father were part of the Taylor group. The team lost a lawsuit levied against the Jackson in 1960. Tension came to a head again in the 1961 NBC convention in Kansas City. Supporters of the Taylor faction stormed the stage. A tussle broke out and pastor A.G. Wright fell hit his head and died. The Jackson faction blamed Taylor for the death. As a result, 2000 pastors left the NBC and created the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC). King and Taylor joined the PNBC the next year.
After the separation, King and Jackson were still in conflict and tensions come to a head again during the Chicago Campaign of 1966. Jackson had become part of the Mayor Daley political machine by this time. So not only did he ideologically disagree with Dr. King, Jackson stood to lose standing with the Democratic party if he couldn’t stop King’s movement. Jackson went to work calling King an outside agitator and forbidding churches associated with NBC from having events for King. Jackson forbade any NBC members from going to King’s mass rally at Soldier Field. In the end, King was only able to achieve a partial victory in Chicago.
Upon King’s death in 1968, Chicago moved to have the road in front of Olivet Baptist Church named after Dr. King. Jackson changed the front address to a side entrance to ensure the address of the church would not have Dr. King’s name in it. The NBC continued to advocate for cooperation with the law and only trying to achieve equality through the courts.
Time magazine interviewed Jackson in April of 1970. In the interview, Jackson blames NVDA for leading the Civil Rights Movement down a path of treason. What started with civil disobedience has led to rebellion in the black community against the authority of the United States. Jackson’s steadfast patriotism and support of Nixon earned him “Patriot of the Year” from a right-wing organization.
Olivet Baptist Church erected a life-size statue in his honor in the 1980s. By 1983 Jackson was old and very ill, so he was not able to defend his position as president. Dr. T.J. Jemison took on the role and promised a new direction for the church. NBC embarked on voter registration drives, building black banks, and ordaining women. In 2001, the church removed the statue of Jackson because it was an engraven image.
- “The Albany Movement Campaign for Full Integration”Global Nonviolent Action Database https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/albany-movement-campaigns-full-integration-georgia-fall-1961-summer-1962
- “A New Voice for the Baptist Church” by M. Hyer Washington Post http://www.washingtonpsot.com
- “Church Casts Aside Famed Pastor’s Statue” by r. Grossman Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com
- “The Bible and the Ballot: Rev. Joseph Jackson and Black Conservatism in the Civil Rights Movement” by S. Lipson
- “Missions of Patriotism Joseph H. Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King” by S. Hitchmough European Journal of American Studies
- “Joseph H. Jackson (1900-1990) The Black Past Remembered and Reclaimed http://www.blackpast.org
- 1964 National Baptist Convention address by J.H. Jackson
- “The Meaning of the Cross” Time Magazine April 4, 1970
- The Progressive Story, New Baptist Roots by W.D. Booth