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Final Chapter for Riverside's First Black Principal

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Horace David Jackson played seminal role in city’s school desegregation

Chris Levister

Horace David Jackson was born into a world full of barriers, but through the 70’s lens of discrimination and segregation in America all he saw were opportunities. He approached life with powerful skills — a keen intellect, passion for teaching and a sharp eye toward injustice — that helped him carve out an important role in Riverside-area history.

The retired Riverside Unified School District administrator credited with quelling racial unrest in the district died January 28, after an eight-year battle with cancer.

Longtime friend and retired educator Esther Andrews, of Riverside called Dr. Jackson a pioneer and visionary, fearless in his devotion to building a just and equitable society using public education as an engine for social change.

“Dr. Jackson’s life was remarkable. He was a dignified giant of a man who left a huge imprint on children’s lives,” she said.

In 1961 at the height of social unrest and violent protests over forced school desegregation, Andrews and Jackson were hired to teach at Lowell Elementary School.

“I’m Puerto Rican and Horace was black. The district wanted to bring in minorities,” said Andrews. In 1965 Lowell Elementary was firebombed and became the epicenter of angry protests against the district’s school integration plans.

He was a trailblazer during a very dark period in Riverside history recalls Patricia Beatty Elementary Principal, Jacqueline Hall, then a second grader at Lowell.

“I remember having to be bused way across town to Liberty Elementary off of Van Buren while my sisters in the same household were bused to Pachappa Elementary School on the opposite side of the district. That was typical of families being split. A handful of brave parents, mine included, pulled us out of school in protest. They enrolled us in what was called the ‘Freedom School’. That’s what Dr. Jackson had to deal with,” Ms. Hall said.

Ben Hernandez, now a Bay-area education activist, and publisher of Low-Rider Arte’ Magazine, recalled Dr. Jackson’s profound impact on students regardless of race or class. Mr. Hernandez was a student at University Heights Jr. High School, as it was called then, where Dr. Jackson was principal.

“It was a time of great consciousness raising political activism Viet Nam, local street battles with police and racial hate bigots – still in many ways just like today,” said Mr. Hernandez.

During the height of racial unrest in Los Angeles, Mr. Hernandez along with a large contingent of Riverside students, parents and supporters organized an illegal student walkout aimed at blocking district desegregation plans.

“Dr. Jackson personally pulled me aside and in classic Malcolm X style (right index finger resting near his temple) said ‘son what you are doing is illegal – but I will not stop you’,” Mr. Hernandez said.

“He stepped out and walked with active faith courageously toward danger. To a dyslexic Chicano kid who could barely read or write it was a defining moment.”

According to Mr. Hernandez, Dr. Jackson would later help the defiant students craft their protest demands.

“Until now - I never told anyone what he did because I feared it would hurt his career,” said Mr. Hernandez. “He instilled pride, conviction and principle. He was a fearless leader. That’s why I have so much love and respect for this man.”

Ms. Hall added Dr. Jackson’s belief that access to education was the minority community’s best chance for social equality and a better future.

In 1996 then an assistant principal in the district, Ms. Hall recalls one of the educator’s most cherished annual events.

He would come to our school and hand out free dictionaries to every third grader. “There was so much joy involved in watching the kids receive their books,” she said.

“He would stress that a greater poverty than that caused by a lack of money is the poverty of unawareness and lack of education.”

Dr. Jackson was born in Frosa, Texas. At age three, he and his family moved to Arizona. He and his younger brother were both orphaned before the age of ten, thereafter raised by their grandmother and blind grandfather. He left school before graduation and joined the U.S. Army becoming one of the first six African American Green Berets. He received his GED while in the military.

Dr. Jackson earned his bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in 1961, his master’s degree from USC and doctorate in education in 1976 from United States International University in San Diego. He taught in Fontana and was the first black administrator in Palm Springs Unified, where he was an elementary school principal and played a critical role in integrating six other elementary schools before returning to Riverside in 1968. He was principal of John W. North High School in Riverside from 1970 to 1976.

He left the school to become superintendent of what is now Val Verde Unified School District, which includes parts of Moreno Valley and Perris. In 1980, he was appointed deputy director of the state Parks and Recreation Department.

Dr. Jackson returned to Riverside County in 1983 as principal of Perris Union High School and in 1984 went to the Chaffey Joint Union High School District as principal of Montclair High School and later was principal of a Valley View High, a continuation school in that district. He also served as a trustee of the San Bernardino Community College District.

He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and two adult children.

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