“This project creates a definitive biography of the Rev. Joseph H. Jackson (1900-1990), a crucial but forgotten pastor in 20th century African American Christianity, an enigmatic leader and dynamic preacher who at one time was the most powerful African American in the world yet died in virtual obscurity, whose story still confounds many Black Christian leaders and whose contemporary significance remains unknown to the majority of church leaders in North America. ”
The goal of this project is to publish a definitive biography of Joseph H. Jackson, a person whose significance to 20th century Black Christianity and U.S. history more broadly has not yet been understood or appreciated. Primary source research has taken place and will take primarily in the J. H. Jackson Archive in Chicago, which houses the mostly unanalyzed collection of Jackson’s correspondence, articles, addresses, denominational records, and over 1,000 sermons. I have also conducted ten oral history interviews with some interviewees having never spoken on the record about Dr. Jackson including his immediate successor at Olivet. For this project, I will conduct additional interviews. The biography will chronicle Jackson’s rise to power as pastor of the largest Black church in America, the 15,000-member Olivet Baptist in Chicago, and as the longest-tenured president of the 6 million-member National Baptist Convention (1953-1982), the world’s largest Black organization. I will examine Jackson’s political alliances, describe his controversial views on race, catalogue his global ecumenical work, explain his fallout with the King family, and, connect his eloquence to the maintenance of power in a tradition that prizes sacred oratory. By making the life and legacy of Dr. Jackson available, this project will help North American church leaders acquire new homiletical knowledge both in theory and practice, recover neglected Civil Rights Era church history, and reflect on the ways that leadership and power is a double-edged sword in their modern context.