Lessie Jackson may be a Kent County resident now but she’s had a long road getting there.
She was born in 1924 in Goshen, Ala., like most black families in that part of the South, her parents made a living by sharecropping. Every morning Jackson, her two brothers and her five sisters would wake and spend half their day picking cotton, before going off to school.
Life wasn’t easy for her, her father died when she was young and at the age of 10, she began to do domestic work to help support the family, while still going to school.
At 18, she dropped out of school and got married. She and her husband, like her parents before her, were sharecroppers and spent their days picking cotton.
Eventually they gave up farm life and moved to Montgomery, just as the civil rights movement was beginning to make waves in American society. Jackson was there to experience it firsthand.
“When you rode the bus you couldn’t sit up front, you had to sit in the back. You had to use colored bathrooms,” she said. “It was a little hard, but you managed.”
Jackson’s family was at the heart of the civil rights movement. Some of her family members attended Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached. Jackson herself attended some of the protests and specifically recalls attending a protest demanding voting rights for the black community.
Eventually the violence in Montgomery was too much for the family. She and her husband relocated their eight children to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where she worked as a nanny for the mayor of the town and the daughter of the Firestone family, who owned the Firestone Corporation.
It was there that she and her husband divorced. She was left to raise eight children all alone. Jackson shrugs the challenge off without complaint.
“I managed by the help of the Lord,” she said. “I worked and they learned to help take care of each other.”
She moved to New York City to seek better employment. She knew, as a black woman, it would be easier to find better employment in the north. Jackson worked two jobs to keep the family afloat.
“There were times when we didn’t see her in the morning because she was at work and we didn’t see her until late at night because she was at her other job,” said her son Willy Ray Jackson.
Despite all of her struggles, she made sure that each of her children completed high school so that they could get good jobs. All four of her sons and one of her daughters served in the military and it has since become a family trend; eight of her grandchildren have served or are serving in the military. According to her son, every conflict since Vietnam has had a Jackson fighting in it. Between them all they have more than 100 years of military service.
Page 2 of 2 - Lessie moved several more times to find better employment. She lived in Cambridge Md., and then Champaign, Ill. The woman who started her working years as a sharecropper ended them as an employee at a bank in Illinois. In 2002 she and her son Willy Ray moved to Delaware.
She is coming up on her 89th birthday and in all of those years she’s seen a lot of changes. When she was born Calvin Coolidge was president and now Barak Obama is leading the country.
“I never thought I could live long enough to see a black president,” she said.
Between all of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren she has lived to see 104 new members born into her family and she’s doing her best to pass on her life lessons to them.
“I just tell them to trust in the good Lord and do a good job,” she said. “So far they’re doing pretty good. I don’t have any complaints.”