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James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement

by Sara Rzeszutek

Availablepaperback$30.00s 978-0-8131-7498-3
Availablecloth$60.00x 978-0-8131-6625-4
Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century
384 pages  Pubdate:   6 x 9  21 b&w photos

James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson grew up understanding that opportunities came differently for blacks and whites, men and women, rich and poor. In turn, they devoted their lives to the fight for equality, serving as career activists throughout the black freedom movement. Having grown up in Virginia during the depths of the Great Depression, the Jacksons also saw a path to racial equality through the Communist Party. This choice in political affiliation would come to shape and define not only their participation in the black freedom movement but also the course of their own marriage as the Cold War years unfolded.

In this dual biography, Sara Rzeszutek Haviland examines the couple's political involvement as well as the evolution of their personal and public lives in the face of ever-shifting contexts. She documents the Jacksons’ significant contributions to the early civil rights movement, discussing their time leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress, which laid the groundwork for youth activists in the 1960s; their numerous published writings in periodicals such as Political Affairs; and their editorial involvement in The Worker and the civil rights magazine Freedomways.

Drawing upon a rich collection of correspondence, organizational literature, and interviews with the Jacksons themselves, Haviland follows the couple through the years as they bore witness to economic inequality, war, political oppression, and victory in the face of injustice. Her study reveals a portrait of a remarkable pair who lived during a transformative period of American history and whose story offers a vital narrative of persistence, love, and activism across the long arc of the black freedom movement.

Sara Rzeszutek is associate professor of history at St. Francis College. She has contributed chapters to Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement and Red Activists and Black Freedom: James and Esther Jackson and the Long Civil Rights Revolution.

In this remarkable biography, Sara Haviland examines the ideas and activism of two of the most committed and significant freedom fighters in twentieth-century America. Haviland’s brilliantly constructed narrative explores how Esther Cooper Jackson and James Jackson grappled with profound racial, class, and gender inequalities and, through their seven decades of experiences and love for each other, sought to interpret and refashion pathways to bring about the democratic, antiracist world they envisioned -- Erik Gellman, author of Death Blow to Jim Crow: The National Negro Congress and the Rise of Militant Civil Rights

Haviland’s use of personal correspondence brings this important period of history to life and shows the cost of those who worked in the black freedom movement. Highly recommended. -- Library Journal (starred review)

James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement is rich with first-person accounts and archival material straight from the Jacksons that sheds new light on the intertwining and unwinding of the communist and civil rights movements. -- Brooklyn Daily Eagle

St. Francis College historian Haviland's fascinating and informative book illuminates a missing chapter in the black freedom struggle and the intersection between that struggle and the Communist Party USA. -- CHOICE connect

James and Esther Cooper Jackson: Love and Courage in the Black Freedom Movement, by Sara Rzeszutek Haviland, isn’t just a political history. It is a joint biography of the highest order. -- People's World

In an engrossing narrative spanning nine decades, Sara Rzeszutek Haviland weaves romance, war, separation, and struggle in a story that speaks to central themes in civil rights, gender, and family history. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

The author captures the life and times of two of the most important African American leaders of the Long Civil Rights Revolution, portraying their endearing love for each other over a marriage that lasted 66 years, and shows how their commitment translated into their public life. -- Left Turn

Using archives, extensive secondary literature, and interviews with the Jacksons and their colleagues, Haviland strikes a balance between respect for this revered couple and critical analysis of their choices.

Books such as this joint biography preserve important legacies, reveal interconnections, and complicate narratives of the long black freedom struggle. -- Journal of American History

The book is [an] inspiring story of two people who, over the course of a 66-year marriage,
succeeded in working both together and separately to combine their love of family with their activism, to advance the cause of African American civil rights. -- The Southeastern Librarian