John Bailey Jackson, Jr. (J. B. Jackson), civil rights leader, political strategist, and founding member of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board, son of John Bailey Jackson, Sr., was born in Dallas on February 18, 1928. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta. While attending Morehouse, he served on the school’s debate team with Martin Luther King, Jr. Jackson later attended law school at the University of Texas in Austin.
Jackson made his living as a real estate broker, but he had a passion for politics. He became an expert on the inner workings of Dallas’s city politics and later developed weekly meetings where he shared his political knowledge with other Dallas residents. One lesson he taught was how to read a city council agenda and how to use the information on the agenda to prepare for council meetings.
In 1980 he directed the campaign of Dallas City Council hopeful, Elsie Faye Heggins. Heggins won and became the first non-establishment member of the council. Jackson remained as Heggins’s primary political advisor during her two-year tenure.
When Dallas was building Interstate 45, Jackson recognized the injustice of the city’s plan to build the interstate through the South Dallas community without building off-ramps that would allow travelers to access South Dallas or allow its residents to access the interstate. He worked with Heggins on a successful campaign to get ramps placed within the South Dallas community.
In addition to Elsie Faye Heggins, J. B. Jackson mentored others who went on to hold places on the city council, the county commissioners court, and the Texas House of Representatives. His indelible mark on Dallas politics can be seen as early as the 1960s and early 1970s. When the Dallas City Council condemned low income housing in South Dallas as part of an expansion of Fair Park, residents were offered as little as $600 to leave their homes. As founder of the Fair Park Homeowners Association and because he was one of the residents whose home was condemned, Jackson fought to get reasonable prices for South Dallas homeowners.
Jackson was a founding member of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Board and served on the board for five years from 1983 to 1988. After his retirement, he remained active in DART affairs by attending board meetings and community meetings that DART sponsored. He explained his involvement by saying, “When you help create something, you take an interest in seeing what becomes of it. You can’t get the nuances, the subtleties that occur at various committee meetings by just reading the paper or talking to people later. You have to be there.” In fact, after his retirement, Jackson became the co-chairman of the South East Dallas sector of the Community Transportation Forum—a volunteer group that worked with DART staff members.
Jackson was a founder of the Fredrick Douglass Voting Council and was an advisory board member for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. He was also a plaintiff in litigation that ended Dallas’s system of at-large city council districts.
Jackson remained politically active in Dallas politics until he suffered a stroke in December 1997. He never married or had children. He died in Houston on June 29, 1998, while being hospitalized for complications that occurred from his stroke. His services were held at Lott’s Mortuary Chapel in Dallas, and he was buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. Ed Cloutman, one of his colleagues since 1970, eulogized him by saying, “He (Jackson) was of the Dr. King school of passive, quiet but firm [leadership]. He could be tough as nails, but was never loud or boisterous. To see him visibly mad was unusual.” Edna Pemberton, a community activist from the Oak Cliff community of Dallas, said, “He was one of the people that really helped and assisted me because sometimes people like me don’t know how to do the things. You have a passion but you don’t have knowledge and knowledge without passion is almost conflict…he [Jackson] didn’t mind breaking you down to help you and lift you up.” The J. B. Jackson, Jr. Transit Center in Dallas was named in his honor.