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Clancy DuBos: A tireless advocate — Johnny Jackson Jr. 

The former City Councilman and state lawmaker died Jan. 24


There aren't many first- generation civil rights leaders left in New Orleans, and we lost another one Jan. 24 when former City Councilman and state Rep. Johnny Jackson Jr. died the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.

  A tireless advocate for civil and human rights, Jackson reluctantly entered public life after serving as a community organizer in the Desire-Florida neighborhoods in the 9th Ward.

  Jackson knew Desire's people and struggles firsthand. He served as director of the Desire Community Center during a 1970 standoff between New Orleans cops and local members of the Black Panther Party, who used the center that Jackson led to offer breakfast and tutoring programs for children, according to a story in The Advocate.

  The next year, black voters in New Orleans had their first real opportunity to elect a black candidate to the state House of Representatives district that included Desire. Jackson was recruited by the nascent 9th Ward political organization SOUL to run for the seat.

  "Johnny was reluctant to run," recalled SOUL Chairman Don Hubbard, another first-generation civil rights leader. Hubbard served as Jackson's campaign manager for that first legislative run. "He didn't think he was up to it. He thought he was too young. ... Above all, Johnny genuinely cared for the people of his district. He wasn't just a guy who just ran for office."

  Elected to the House in 1971, Jackson co-founded the Legislative Black Caucus, which remains a powerful force in state government. Jackson's legislative colleagues remember him as a man with a gentle demeanor but the heart of a warrior.

  "We worked together as delegates to the 1973 convention to rewrite the state's constitution and collaborated on many legislative issues over the years," said state Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, a longtime House colleague of Jackson's. "Johnny was dedicated to his community with an eye to providing economic opportunity and equality for all."

  Jackson left the Legislature after winning a seat on the New Orleans City Council in 1986. First City Court Constable Lambert Boissiere Jr. served on the council with Jackson, who remained a member until 1994. Boissiere said Jackson "always strived to be the conscience of the council in terms of how our decisions would impact people."

  The soft-spoken Jackson found himself embroiled in controversy when it was disclosed that he gave himself a Tulane University legislative scholarship. He later expressed regret, telling The Times-Picayune, "The prevailing ethics at the time were such that it was not illegal or unethical for me to take the scholarship [but] it's not something that I would ever do again."

  Jackson remained active in civic and community affairs throughout his life. He was a board member of Total Community Action, the New Orleans East Economic Development Foundation, the Desire-Florida Area Community Council, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, WWOZ-FM and the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

  "He always had a smile on his face," Hubbard said. "And he was never impressed with titles. When somebody called him 'Representative,' he would say, 'Aw, man, I'm just Johnny Jr.' But when his community needed him to do the impossible for his people, he did it. ... There will never be another Johnny Jackson Jr."


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