Maynard Holbrook Jackson, Sr., African-American Baptist pastor, missionary, and Dallas civil rights pioneer, son of Alexander Stephens and Odalie Alice Morse Jackson, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 3, 1894. Jackson’s father, a respected educator and minister, was pastor at Tulane Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and had served as the president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He moved the family to Dallas in 1899 to become the pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church. Maynard Jackson was raised in Dallas and graduated from the Dallas Colored High School in 1911.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from Atlanta’s Morehouse College in 1914, Jackson moved to Chicago to receive his formal ministerial training at Northwestern University’s Garrett School of Divinity. In addition to postgraduate studies at the University of Chicago, Jackson served extensively in the missionary field. He even occupied the post of field secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, where he stressed efforts to make postcolonial Africa more self-sufficient.
In 1929 Jackson joined his father at New Hope Baptist Church and served as co-pastor for three years before his father’s death in 1933. Jackson’s father had been the pastor at New Hope Baptist for more than thirty years. Before settling in as head pastor of New Hope Baptist, however, Jackson agreed to assist his alma mater, Morehouse College, with an educational campaign. This decision would change his life, for while living in Atlanta in 1932, Jackson met his future wife, Irene “Renie” Dobbs, who was the valedictorian of Spelman College’s 1929 class and the recipient of a master’s degree from Toulouse University in France.
After marrying, the couple returned to Dallas, and Jackson began his tenure as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church officially in 1934. Under his watch as head pastor, Jackson was praised for his commitment to Christian ideals, as “the standards of the [New Hope Baptist] Church as a center of Christian worship and service were advanced.” In addition to being a pillar of spiritual strength for the New Hope Baptist membership, Jackson remained in tune with the needs of the larger Dallas community by serving as spokesman for the Dallas Interdenominational Ministers Alliance. Jackson also reached out to leaders across the state and nation, seeking Christian cooperation in spiritual, social, and political matters.
For Jackson, politics and the pulpit were not separate entities, and both were integral to the uplift of African Americans in Dallas, in Texas, and throughout the nation. According to the New Hope Baptist Church history, “[Jackson] perpetuated the heritage of the church as a champion of Christian democracy. He was truly a voice of the new Negro in Dallas and in Texas.” Jackson was perhaps most well-known for his 1936 campaign to end the Democratic white primary and poll tax, both of which were preventing African Americans in Texas from exercising their constitutional right to vote (see ELECTION LAWS). Working in concert with A. Maceo Smith and Ammon S. Wells, Jackson helped to establish the Progressive Voters League, which engaged in voter registration and poll tax payment campaigns. Although the PVL’s efforts initially fell short, in 1944 the NAACP’s victory in Smith v. Allwright ended the white Democratic primary in Texas. Afterwards, Jackson (PVL’s first president) helped the Progressive Voters League to go statewide, as well as nationwide.
In addition to his work with the PVL, Jackson also served as secretary of the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (1939–40) and was one of the most influential leaders in the Dallas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1944 Jackson became the first African American to seek election to Dallas Independent School District School Board, but was unsuccessful. Not until 1967, with the election of Dr. Emmett J. Conrad, would an African American achieve that post, but Jackson certainly helped blaze the trail with his early campaign.
In 1945 Jackson resigned as pastor of New Hope Baptist and moved his family from Dallas to Atlanta, Georgia, in order to become the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church. In 1952 Jackson endured a catastrophic auto accident in which his car collided with the motorcycle of an Atlanta policeman. The impact left Jackson’s foot effectively severed, and he was reportedly never physically or mentally the same ever again. Jackson delivered his final sermon at Friendship Baptist in the autumn of 1952 and ultimately died on June 27, 1953, in Atlanta, at the age of fifty-nine years old.
Although his life ended prematurely, Jackson’s family continued to carry on his legacy as a champion of African-American civil rights. In addition to becoming a professor at Spelman College, in 1959 Jackson’s wife Irene became the first African American in Atlanta to be issued a library card. Upon her death in 1999, the Georgia legislature issued an official resolution of condolence to honor her passing. Of even greater historical significance, one of the couple’s six children, Maynard H. Jackson, Jr., became the first African-American mayor of Atlanta and served from 1974 to 1982, as well as from 1990 to 1994.