Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.
Every oral history relies on the memories, views, and opinions of the narrator. Because of the personal nature of oral history, listeners may find some viewpoints or language of the recorded participants to be objectionable. In keeping with its mission of preservation and unfettered access whenever possible, BHS presents these views as recorded.
The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.
All citations must be attributed to Brooklyn Historical Society:
[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
These interviews are made available for research purposes only. For more information about other kinds of usage and permissions, see BHS’s rights and reproductions policy.
Esther Cooper Jackson
Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan
February 08, 2010
Call number: 2008.031.4.003
0:58 - Introductions; biographical details; rural Arlington, VA and segregation; good high school, Oberlin, & Fisk
9:37 - Masters thesis on domestic help; mother's typing thesis; mother's career; grandparents activism and background; her doctoral work; voting work in Birmingham and using puppet shows
19:21 - Outreach with Pete Seeger over years; moving to NY in McCarthyism era; settling in Brooklyn; raising kids with Black history; defending against McCarthyism attacks; work leading to Freedomways
30:12 - Freedomways origin, participants; difficulty of continuing issues after 24 years; launch parties for magazine (1 at Du Bois' house); Du Bois' retirement to Ghana; Shirley Graham's background
39:45 - Editorial efforts at Freedomways: Thematic issues, ties to LES & Village communities, political & cultural aims, art shows; subscriptions, income, & recordkeeping; special education issues
48:46 - Daughters' learning and schools; Harriet's Performing Arts HS entry; Brooklyn schools and Civil Rights Movement; describing Rev. Galamison
59:28 - Contributors to magazine: Dr. A. Poussaint, M. White Katz, T. Feelings, J. Carey Bond, others; [short break for water]
69:51 - African American History Bulletin that featured her family; photos & tales of her mother; Bed-Stuy Restoration's influence; public school struggles of Black children; issue of power balance in running NYC school system
79:26 - Ft. Greene boundaries; their old apt. building; churchgoers demographics nearby; evolving neighborhood population & amenities; her view of Pratt campus; Angela Davis at Pratt; pioneers of '80s-'90s "Black Bohemia"
Oral History Interview with Esther Cooper Jackson
Esther Cooper Jackson was born in Arlington, Virginia in 1917. The younger of two children, her father was an officer in the Army and her mother was a bureaucrat who worked for the Forest Service, as well as an activist. Jackson graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. She went to Oberlin College and then onto Fisk University, where she received a master's degree in sociology. Jackson moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1940 to work on a voter registration project; spending seven years working there as a community organizer. She met her husband during that era, and they later decided to move to New York City in the early 1950s. Settling in Brooklyn, Jackson began working as an activist and board member with the Committee to Defend Negro Leadership. In 1961, she became a founding member and managing editor of the magazine Freedomways. She continued at the magazine for a quarter century. Jackson followed that with work as an activist and speaker, all while living in the same apartment in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn since 1963. As recently as 2015, she had donated many personal papers to the New York University library.
In the interview, Esther Cooper Jackson begins by describing the lives of her mother and father. Among many of her own biographical details, she talks about her early life in Arlington, Virginia and her education. She notes her thesis at Fisk University has been re-discovered by a number of contemporary academics. Jackson discusses the seven years she spent working as a community organizer in Birmingham, Alabama. She gives a basic picture of the civil inequalities African-Americans faced in the South. Jackson recalls her move to Brooklyn and her involvement in Freedomways magazine, a Black quarterly dedicated to art and culture. Throughout, she shares details and anecdotes about her daughters. The interview ends with her reflections on the change in the racial make-up of the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn in the late 2000s. Interview conducted by Sady Sullivan.
The Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Community activists series features a dynamic range of narrators. Some are prominent public figures and others are well-known in their communities. This ongoing series focuses on Brooklyn history and the experiences of these narrators who have a history of or were presently supporting an underrepresented segment of society, or forming a social movement, which thereby effected broad change to a neighborhood, much of Brooklyn, or the country. The content relates directly to organized support of those harmed in natural disasters, creating cooperative business models, forming architectural preservation groups, and documenting civil rights and social justice movements. The oldest narrator in this collection was born in 1917.
CitationJackson, Esther Cooper, Oral history interview conducted by Sady Sullivan, February 08, 2010, Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Community activists, 2008.031.4.003; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
- Du Bois, W. E. B., (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963
- Freedomways Associates
- Jackson, Esther Cooper
- National Committee to Defend Negro Leadership
- Pratt Institute
- Southern Negro Youth Congress
- African Americans
- Civil rights movements
- Community organizing
- Social justice
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Brownsville (New York, N.Y.)
- Fort Greene (New York, N.Y.)
- New York (N.Y.)
- Southern States
Finding AidVoices of Brooklyn oral histories: Community activists