Teaching Black military history is retiree’s passion
Daytona native spends spare time educating civilians about past wars and contributions made by African-Americans
BY PENNY DICKERSON
Retired Army Master Sergeant Hubert C. Jackson tried his best to avoid a military career in 1969.
Several decades later, he now devotes his spare time to giving lectures to youth and adults about African-American military history.
In June, Jackson, who resides in St. Petersburg, returned to his native Daytona Beach for a community presentation at the Dickerson library on Keech Street and an extended lecture for select students at Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) who participated in the Black Male Explorers Summer program sponsored by his fraternal organization, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
“My first lecture was to the “Friends of the John H. Dickerson Heritage Library” in Daytona Beach on Veterans Day of 2014. That was the first time I’d done my presentation publicly,” said Jackson. “At that presentation, Mrs. Inez Jeffers – librarian at the Dickerson Library – invited me to come and address the youth group that they have during the summer, so I gladly returned.”
Enlisted to avoid draft
The rest is history. Military history, that is.
From the precarious circumstances to almost being drafted to his current status as an aficionado on the contributions of African-Americans in the Colonial War, the Revolution and pertinent trailblazers who fought in WWII, Jackson’s life and passion for history are worthy chronicles of interest.
A young Jackson married his first wife, Pauline, in 1969. He was 19 years old and said he held an honest job at Daytona’s Lloyd Electric. But one day he returned from work and had a special delivery letter from the United States Marine Corps. Jackson knew he was eligible to be drafted and the Vietnam War was in progress.
He circumvented Uncle Sam’s mandate and voluntarily elected to join the branch of his choice – the Army. A successive letter from the Air Force and Navy followed the initial correspondence from the Marines, but they were null and void as Jackson made the brave decision to leave his wife and young son, Rodney, to attend basic training at Fort Benning, an Army base in Georgia.
Pentagon to Special Operations
Fatherhood and fortune coincided for Jackson early into his military career. Following a two-month stint at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, he was selected as one of five from a pool of 300 trained soldiers assigned to work at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
“I don’t know why I waschosen,” stated Jackson. “I believe it was divine intervention because I wasn’t interested in law, but was working for the office of the adjutant general of the United States.”
Jackson completed four years of service to his country. The Vietnam War was coming to a close and the military offered qualifying soldiers an “early out,” which Jackson pursued.
“I never wanted a military career, but after being out of the service for three-months, I re-enlisted,” Jackson explained. “I was lazy, had no imagination and realized in the military, I was lucky to have those three hots and a cot.”
The latter career choice sustained Jackson for 24 years plus an additional 15. He retired in 2013 as a civilian employee who worked in Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Balancing life and Globetrotting
Jackson later crossed multiple continents that included overseas tours of duty in Korea as well as Fort Gulick, an Army base in the Republic of Panama.
It was in Korea that Jackson gravitated toward mediation and race relations.
“I was a part of a three-man team in 1973 who developed and stood up the brigade’s race relations program,” Jackson explained. “It was me, an E-5, and two Caucasians – a captain and a lieutenant who addressed race riots on military bases. Leaders determined that intervention was necessary so we made people sit down and actually talk about what was going on at that time.”
The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, also called “The Triple Nickels,” were the first and only African-American infantry to fight during WWII. A commemorative group of civilians have formed a namesake organization and meet annually in a different U.S. locale. Only one of the five original infantry members is still alive.
In a 2010 report, battalion member Charles Stevens offered the following on his experience as a Black paratrooper in a segregated army:
“If a white soldier completed airborne training, he got all the stuff he needed, then was assigned to a nice, big combat division or regiment,” Stevens said. “When I got mine (airborne status), people wanted to tell me, ‘I don’t want you to have that type of thing,’ because of the color of my skin. That hurt.”
Yearning to belong
Despite the racial tensions, Stevens earned his parachute wings and landed at Fort Bragg, where he became a member of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
“I finally felt like I belonged to something,” Stevens said as he recalled his first days serving in the all-Black battalion.
Jackson also was stationed at Fort Bragg for 12 years while in the service and thereafter felt the same sense of “belonging” to his coveted alums.
“When I joined in 1998, I attended a reunion in Detroit, Michigan,’’ said Jackson. “There, I also met and interviewed members of the Second Ranger Company, the first and only all-Black ranger company in the U.S. Army that fought in Korea.”
Jackson further states that he was “truly embarrassed” to know so little of their history and contributions to the military war success of America.
“I am Black. I am Airborne qualified and I am Ranger-qualified. These men kicked in the door and allowed me to become a Ranger,” Jackson stated. “I knew nothing about their existence and it irritated me. I felt like if I don’t know, how many others don’t know?”
Birth of a lecture series
Over several years, Jackson made it his business to aggregate a presentable lecture that would inform and educate all who were willing to learn.
To begin, he developed a five-part series titled “African-American Military History from Beginning to End” and assigned extended titles to only the first and last.:
• American Revolution & the War of 1812 – From the very beginning
• Civil War
• Buffalo Soldiers in Cuba
• WWII & Korea – A first for a people and a nation
It is presented orally with the aid of visual slides and begins with colonial America and a narrative of slaves who participated in the French and Indian War. The lecture transitions to the Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War and a dual topic of interest – Buffalo Soldiers and Buffalo Soldiers in Cuba.
“The Buffalo Soldiers actually rescued the Rough Riders but they never got credit for their efforts,” said Jackson, who has amassed a personal library to include close to 100 books and online documentation sources.
Jackson is additionally a man of acquired knowledge having earned an Associate in Arts degree in General Studies from Central Texas College while stationed in Panama. That academic accomplishment was followed by a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Bethune-Cookman in 1990. In 2000 while stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, he earned a Master of Science degree in Public Administration from Troy State University.
Spotlight on pioneers
Presenting the historical authenticity of military life on and off the battlefield is important to Jackson who holds specific affection for a slide and image that focuses on the Civil War soldier and his family.
“During my research, I learned that the emphasis that the vast majority of Black soldiers placed on formal education was mind-blowing,” shared Jackson. “The one thing you will always find on the body of a dead, Union Black was a Holy Bible and a speller. They never went anywhere without them.”
Jackson was joined at his Daytona lecture by Joel Fears, who along with his wife, Mary, belong to a Civil War re-enactment group called the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry. It was the first military unit consisting of Black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War – given popular rise by the movie “Glory.”
Each year, they join in a re-enactment of “The Battle of Olustee,” which was the largest Civil War battle in Florida.
Fears portrays Corporate Gooding, who was both wounded and died in battle while Mary, his wife, and historical storyteller portrays “Susie King,” founder of the Civil War Black Nurses Corp.
Joel Fears attended the library presentation in his full Union Army uniform, including authentic shoes.
In a brief address, he shared with the audience particulars about his uniform and life during the Civil War, including the types of food he was resigned to eat.
Facing the future
Jackson’s active participation with the 555th Parachute group has dwindled in recent years but he remains hopeful regarding the future of his lecture series.
“Reactions have been very positive and I was so very pleased,” said Jackson of his interactions with the Black Male Explorers in grades 6-12 he met this summer at B-CU’s College of Business. “They were somewhat not amazed, but equally enthralled by the information shared about first Black generals, Tuskegee Airmen, and the few Blacks who were allowed to be tankers.”
A proud veteran with a heart for history, Jackson would like to pursue presentations to ROTC students and African-American history classes, specifically high school and college, any youth group that has a total interest in history.
“I focus on military history because it affected me directly,” stated Jackson. “These individuals paid dues for me to serve and I didn’t even know who they were. I have always resented that it was purposefully left out of classroom textbooks.’’
For more details, contact Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.