Did you know that Malden’s city hall’s council chamber is named the Herbert L. Jackson Council Chambers? And did you know that a switchbox art project on Salem Street has been created to commemorate Herbert L. Jackson? Who was this favorite son of Malden?
Herbert L. Jackson was the first African American ever elected to the Malden City Council. Councillor Jackson has the distinction of a 30 year career in public service. He was first elected as a councillor for Ward 7 from 1945 to 1947, and in Ward 5 from 1947 to 1951 and as a City Councillor-at-Large from 1965 to 1975. He served as president of the Malden City Council four times during his political career. Furthermore, Jackson was the first African American elected as a State House Representative in the 20th century, serving from 1950 to 1954.
The City of Malden achieved national prominence in the election of Herbert L. Jackson as a Massachusetts District Governor of Lions Club and again, he was the first African American elected to such a post in the United States.
Jackson was born on October 20, 1908 at 22 Granville Avenue, Malden. He was the thirteenth child of John T. Jackson and Araminta Jefferson Jackson, highly respected citizens of Malden. John T. Jackson came to Malden in 1884 and opened a very successful tailoring business in 1899. He was a master tailor and furrier. Family lore has it that he made the uniforms for Malden Firemen and Policemen. All of his sons, including Herbert, later opened their own tailoring business in Malden and Melrose.
Herbert Jackson attended Faulkner Elementary School. He was the first African American to be elected president of the Malden High School graduating class of 1927. He attended Emerson School of Oratory, now Emerson College, Suffolk Law School and Massachusetts School of Art for theater and drama.
As a young man, he pursued a career in the entertainment field and worked as an actor and singer in Boston’s Federal Theater and as a promoter. He served as master of ceremonies in Boston’s jazz clubs. Jackson brought several jazz bands to the Greater Boston area as a promoter.
Daughter Lee Van Allen remembers her father as someone who loved to surround himself with people.
“Dad was always a people person. He had a very unique ability to remember an individual’s name as well as details about their family and greeted everyone with a warm smile and handshake,” Van Allen said.
In 1935, Jackson married his sweetheart, Doris Pope, of Everett.
“My dad met my mother, Doris, in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s’ Vineyard at her family’s inn called Shearer Cottage when she was about 13 years old. He was selling magazines to the inn’s guests in order to earn money for college,” Van Allen said. “He told my mom he would wait for her and he did. They were married about seven years later when she was 20 and he was 27 years old. My mother was from Everett, but they had never met until his visit to Martha’s Vineyard.”
The young couple returned to Malden and opened a cleaning and tailoring business, The House of Jackson, located at 517 Exchange Street. After they were married for several years, they bought a home located at 267 Salem Street, Malden, which Jackson always admired and was owned by his dentist, also African American.
Doris encouraged Herbert to enter politics in Malden, where he was continually elected to public office by a predominantly white electorate.
Herbert and Doris had three children, Gail Elizabeth, Lee Miriam and Herbert, Jr., all raised in this home. Daughter Lee Van Allen also raised her family there. Jackson family members owned and lived in the home for over 50 years.
Herbert Jackson passed away on Wednesday, September 6, 1978.
“Being the son of a tailor, my Dad appreciated well-made clothes and dressed in quality clothes all his life. Being 6′ tall, he always looked handsome in his clothes. Shortly before his death, my Dad told my brother, Herbert, Jr., that he wanted to be buried in a white suit,” Van Allen said. “We found one in his closet after he passed. Dad was beautifully tanned, having just returned from vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, and looked beautiful in death as he did in life.”
Both of Herbert Jackson’s parents were born into slavery in Athens, Georgia. According to daughter, Lee, her paternal grandmother, Araminta Jefferson Jackson, was a purported descendant of President Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. “Our family never talked about it outside of ourselves because it would have been detrimental to my father’s political endeavors” in those times.
Herbert Jackson and the citizens of Malden proved over and over again that one could be elected to public office on one’s own merit without regard to race. He loved the city of Malden dearly, as its residents were always welcoming and supportive to his family.
To see photos, a slideshow and learn more about the making of the switchbox art project commemorating Herbert L. Jackson, see our Neighborhood View companion piece by clicking here.
The author is deeply indebted to Herbert Jackson’s daughter, Lee, for her help in telling this story of her father. Lee Van Allen currently owns Shearer Cottage, on Martha’s Vineyard. Photos of this historic inn are exhibited at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.