Longtime Richmond activist dies
By Chris Treadway
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/08/2011 03:00:51 PM PDT
Updated: 09/08/2011 03:00:56 PM PDT
Fred Davis Jackson, who led a life dedicated to peace, equality and social justice and worked tirelessly to bring those ideals to some of the poorest areas of West Contra Costa, died Thursday morning at age 73.
The loss, which Jackson's many friends had been braced for since he was diagnosed with cancer last November, quickly reverberated around the city.
"It's very, very sad," said Richmond Arts and Culture Manager Michelle Seville. "Every single peace movement, he was always part of it."
Jackson was part preacher, part social movement leader and part showman in his quest to bring a message of peace and equality to those who needed it most. Over the years he wrote a play, composed songs and most recently wrote a book, published earlier this year.
Seville recalled a city Arts and Humanities event where Jackson sang an original song "Died Too Young," dedicated to those who had succumbed to violence. "There wasn't a dry eye in the place," she said.
Jackson took great pride in describing himself as "a son of a sharecropper," born in 1938 on a cotton farm near Macomb, Miss., particularly after he was selected by Congressman George Miller to go to Washington, D.C., in December 2008 to cast the 7th Congressional District electoral vote certifying the election of Barack Obama as president.
Since 1993 he had been the community resource coordinator for Neighborhood House of North Richmond, which allowed him to pursue efforts on a number of fronts, from trying to bring racial factions to common ground, to a role in affordable housing for seniors, to getting the community involved in a healthy nutrition initiative.
Generations of children knew Jackson best as Santa Claus, a role he played annually at Verde Elementary School, passing out gifts to children in impoverished North Richmond.
"I believe we are connected by a common thread, " Jackson said in an interview last November. "When God says, 'Who is thy neighbor, ' we are all neighbors. You've got to love everybody. We're still sisters and brothers in one family."
Jackson was a teenager when he came to the Richmond area with his family and graduated from Richmond High School in 1957. Even back then, he recalled years later, he usually took on the role of peacemaker.
Jackson, who earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from University of Phoenix, was a longtime manager for Pacific Telephone before retiring and beginning a second career as a full-time activist.
He was chairman of the county's Economic Opportunity Council, served on the board of Richmond Main Street Initiative, and was a member of the city Arts and Culture Commission.
"My philosophy is 'people helping people, ' that's how it's done, " he said. "You can't do it alone. Those that help you up may have to catch you on the way down."
Jackson earned numerous accolades for his work over the years, and earlier this year the city and county renamed a street Fred Jackson Way in his honor to ensure his name and work are remembered.
"He's got to be one of the kindest people I've ever met," said local photographer Ellen Gailing, who took numerous images of the immaculately whiskered Jackson for the city. "We lost one of our best soldiers."
Funeral arrangements for Jackson are pending.