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Editorial: Honoring a Charleston civil rights icon

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Your average person doesn’t get a visit from the mayor as she prepares to celebrate a 92nd birthday, but Christine Jackson isn’t your average person: She’s one of Charleston’s most significant civil rights leaders.

That’s why Mayor John Tecklenburg and others dropped by her James Island house recently to read a proclamation declaring Aug. 1 “Christine Osburn Jackson Day” in the city.

Mrs. Jackson’s civil rights legacy is intertwined with family. She and her husband, the Rev. E.L. Jackson, moved to Charleston in 1963 after he lost his job in Alabama for participating in a civil rights protest. Her parents made the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, a peaceful protest violently blunted by police that would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” The story of that protest was retold nationally recently as many paid tribute to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who helped lead marchers over the bridge.

Mrs. Jackson’s cousin, Coretta Scott King, wife of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., also marched across the bridge with Mr. Lewis that day.

In Charleston, Mrs. Jackson began working for the Coming Street YWCA, which — like almost everything else in Charleston in the 1960s — was segregated. White women and girls went to a different YWCA on George Street, a few blocks away.

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Generations of African American girls and women sought refuge and strength from the Coming Street YWCA since 1907, and Mrs. Jackson helped put it at the forefront of local efforts to push for voting rights, civil rights and more equal pay. She also helped spotlight and celebrate Charleston-area businesswomen with an annual Tribute to Women in Industry.

Mrs. Jackson held it together when the whites-only YWCA disaffiliated with the national organization over integration, and she eventually was able to get her organization to secure legal title to its Coming Street home and help it become what it is today, the YWCA Greater Charleston. Meanwhile, she helped expand empowerment programs for women and girls and co-founded the YWCA’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, the largest such tribute in the state.

On her birthday Saturday, the city helped with another tribute to her, as police led a procession in front of her house on Dills Bluff Road — a sort of “drive-by birthday party” to her church less than a mile away.

Mr. Tecklenburg recalled how Mrs. Jackson showed a mixture of grace, kindness and effectiveness. “She was a determined and influential executive, a mover and shaker you might say,” he said. “When Mrs. Jackson called, you didn’t say no.”

The city’s expressions of gratitude were reminders of Mrs. Jackson’s significant role in the civil rights movement. Everyone can honor her by continuing her courageous work to make Charleston and the rest of the world a more just and equitable place.

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