AKA Oakland-Berkeley Graduate Chapter

Dr. Ida Louise Jackson

The Life Journey of the Late Dr. Ida Louise Jackson

Ida L. Jackson

Dr. Ida Louise Jackson was the only daughter in a family of seven older brothers born to Pompey and Nillie Jackson, Her father was a minister, farmer, carpenter, and businessman. Her mother, a woman of great strength of character and wisdom, was a homemaker.

Before Ida was born, the family found itself fleeing for its life after a Louisiana court trial had ruled in her father’s favor over a land dispute. As a result, a virtuous and courageous white woman warned Pompey and his family that they were the target of a lynch mob.

In fear for their lives, the Jacksons packed only a few indispensable possessions and headed for the other side of the Mississippi River. As Pompey led the way on horseback, Nillie and the boys followed him in the horse-drawn wagon. They traveled for several days and nights with the lynch mob not far behind.  When they reached the River, they boarded a barge that carried them to safety on the other side of the Mississippi. They landed in Vicksburg.  A friendly family in Vicksburg provided food and shelter for Pompey and his family until he was able to purchase some land and build a home for them. It was there that Ida was born.

By the early age of three, Ida had learned to read, and therefore, was allowed to go to school with her brothers. The school classroom was in the home of a white woman who was the teacher. When the teacher discovered that this precocious child, Ida, could read, the teacher assigned her to help some of the other children learn to read.  By the age of eight, Ida was enrolled in Cherry Hill High School in Vicksburg. At ten years old, tragedy struck when her beloved father died. Nevertheless, she graduated from high school at the age of eleven.

The following year, she entered Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, a Methodist church-supported college. In 1916, she transferred to New Orleans University (now Dillard University). She received her diploma in May of 1917 and in the Fall of that year, she was assigned to teach classes at Peck School, a division of New Orleans University.

In 1918, Nillie and Ida joined the Jackson brothers who had migrated to Oakland, California. Shortly after moving to Oakland, Ida entered the University of California at Berkeley. Mother Nillie and Ida’s brothers fully supported her in the academic pursuit she set for herself.  It was while attending the University of California that she organized a group of African-American women students on campus. In 1921, this group became chartered as Rho Chapter, an undergraduate chapter of ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY, the first collegiate Greek-letter organization founded in America by African-American women. Ida was a charter member of Rho Chapter.

In 1922, Ida earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in Education, Vocational Guidance, and Counseling. With her undergraduate degree in hand, she applied for a teaching position in Oakland Public Schools, only to be told that she needed “more education.”  Determined to satisfy that requirement, the following year, she earned the Master of Arts Degree from the University of California, Berkeley, even though it was a feat for an African-American woman to earn two degrees from the University of California in the 1920s.

With her graduate degree in hand, Ida returned to Oakland Public Schools to re-apply for a teaching position. This time, she was told that she needed teaching experience. Subsequently, she was offered and accepted a position in a high school in El Centra, California, where parents of minority children were demanding a teacher other than a white teacher. She admirably completed her assignment there.

As a result, Dr. Jackson has gone down in history as the first African-American certified by the State of California to teach in a California public high school. The following year, she re-applied to Oakland Public Schools. She was offered a long-term substitute position at Prescott School She accepted.  Determined to demonstrate her ability to teach, Ida assumed her teaching responsibilities with utmost sincerity. In due time, achievement test scores revealed that Ida’s students had significantly improved.  As an addendum to her classroom pedagogy, she designed and implemented a dramatic and literary cultural enrichment component in cooperation with the Peralta Library. The student response was overwhelming.

In spite of the fact that the students related most positively to the new teacher and their achievement test scores significantly improved, some of the teachers on the staff at Prescott protested the hiring of an African-American as a teacher. They demonstrated their malevolence by organizing a march on the Administration Building.  The Superintendent of Schools faced the protesters and pacified them by informing them that it had been seven years since Ida had first applied for a position and that even then, she had been hired only as a long-term substitute. However, he did acknowledge to them that her educational qualification exceeded his, and conceivably, most of theirs.

Dr. Jackson’s quest to share her knowledge and broaden her effectiveness led her back to the University of California, Berkeley, to seek the Administrative Credential to become certified by the State of California as a School Administrator. She completed those requirements and was certified in 1936.  Her strong desire for further knowledge soon led her to course work in the doctoral degree programs of the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University, New York City.  During this period of her life, she was asked to serve as Dean of Women at Tuskeegee Institute in Tuskeegee, Alabama. There, she was able to hone her administrative skills, and she carried out her duties laudably. She also became an assistant to Mary McCloud Bethune in the organizational stages of the National Council of Negro Women.

Ida was frequently being asked to speak at public affairs. As a result, she became renowned, and commensurately, her popularity grew as a woman with a powerful message to deliver.  Thus, Dr. Jackson gradually emerged as a national figure, and in 1934, she was elected National President of ALPHA KAPPA ALPHA SORORITY.

During her travels through the South, she observed a dire need for better qualified teachers. She called upon her Sorority members to meet the challenge by volunteering to be of service in establishing a lyceum, focusing on improving teachers’ subject mastery and pedagogical skills.  Dr. Jackson assumed financial responsibility for the bulk of expenses to finance the project in order to achieve her objective.

As a result, a summer school for rural Mississippi teachers was established in the town of Lexington, Mississippi, staffed by some of the most effective teachers in colleges and universities from around the country.  Again, she turned to her Sorority to implement a means of providing health services to people in rural areas of the South. She presented a full proposal of her concept for establishing a mobile health clinic to serve men, women, and children in those communities. Her Sorority adopted her proposal The Project was launched and became famous as The Mississippi Health Project.” These mobile clinics are recorded as the first such facility developed in the United States.

During the length of the Project, more than four thousand children and adults were served by volunteer physicians, dentists, and nurses from around the country. The clinics were in operation in Holmes and Bolivar Counties and eventually moved to headquarters in Mound Bayou. Dr. Jackson is chronicled as Founder of ‘The Mississippi Health Project, “and for eight years, she served as General Director.

Upon her retirement from public life, Dr. Jackson spent some seventeen years on her ranch in Mendocino, California. She returned to her Oakland home in the late 1970s.

During her lifetime, Dr. Jackson was bestowed many honors and awards. Just to name a few, among them are her election to membership in the BERKELEY FELLOWS, an honorary society; Alpha Chapter of PHI BETA KAPPA, University of California, Berkeley; the AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY WOMEN (AAUW), San Francisco Branch. During her later life, she founded and served as Honorary President of the ALPHA NU OMEGA IDA L. JACKSON HOUSING AND EDUCATION FOUNDATION, which was incorporated in 1990. Her charge to that organization is to actively pursue and acquire affordable housing for elder citizens.

Dr. Ida Louise Jackson has left a valuable legacy of inspiration and service. She has been an inspiration to all who were blessed to have known her.  Dr. Jackson’s written works include Development of Negro Children in Reference to Education (1923) and Librarians’ Role in Creating Racial Understanding (1944).