Jonathon Jackson, December 16th, 2015


Jonathon Jackson, December 16th, 2015


In this interview, Jonathon Jackson discusses his experiences growing up in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1950's and 1960's.


Detroit Historical Society


Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI




Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Jonathon Jackson

Brief Biography

Jonathon Jackson was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He lived in many different neighborhoods and attended many different schools within the city. He eventually became a professional musician and spent time in the United States Marine Corps.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Detroit Historical Musuem



Interview Length



Julie Vandenboom

Transcription Date



WW: Hello, my name is William Winkel and I'm here with Jonathon Jackson. We are sitting here for the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project, which is being put on by the Detroit Historical Society. Thank you for sitting down with me today. Can you first tell me where and when you were born?

JJ: Detroit, Michigan. August 6, '47. 1947.

WW: And did you grow up in the city?

JJ: I grew up in the city.

WW: Where'd you grow up?

JJ: Mom had us all over the city, pretty much. We lived on the East Side, we lived on the West Side, a little bit on the Southwest side. Not on the North End, though. And the East Side. I did say East Side.

WW: Where did you primarily grow up? Were you moving around a lot during your childhood?

JJ: When you say primarily, could you give me an age? From what age, to what age?

WW: Grade school? So you'd say, five to ten at that point?

JJ: Five or ten years old?

WW: Mmm hmmm.

JJ: We stayed on a street called Alford, off of Hastings, not too far from Black Bottom. Not too far from the Brewster Projects. And not too far from Eastern Market. It was in that area that we stayed from the ages of – I would say about seven, until I think I was about ten. So that was Alford and Hastings, and after that, we moved to the West Side – an area – Buchanan and 25th streets, and we stayed in that area from about ten-ish until about twelve-ish. Then we moved on up the East Side – Tennessee and Jefferson, and we stayed over that area until I was about fourteen, fifteen. Then we moved back over on the East Side, Vinewood and Biddle, near West Warren. Stayed over that area until I was about sixteen, seventeen.

Now prior to that, there was places we lived. I can't remember – I was so young. But I believe we stayed – we stayed on a street called MacDougall, that was on the East Side. And so, you know, to think about that now, you know, if I'd thought about it previously I could have nailed it down, but when you ask me the question, you know now,  have to rapid-think. So, that's pretty much it.

WW: What was your childhood like? With moving around so much was it tense, or was it, because you were a child it didn't bother you so much, or—?

JJ: Well, you know children are adaptable. Or can be. I find that the issues were meeting and greeting new people – new situations – new circumstances, so at times it could be very tense. But other times, as a child, I found a way to enjoy myself wherever we went. So it was kind of – vacillated – it was back and forth. Could be tense, then it could be enjoyable at times.

WW: Looking back, what are your thoughts about the city while you were growing up? Community relations, or –?

JJ: Actually, in the earlier years, I didn't think about the city so much as the community I lived in. That was my world – the community. Later, as I progressed in years, the city as a whole – its cultures, its other citizens – became more prominent as I got older, because my understanding grew. But in earlier years, it was what it was, you know. I wasn't exposed to a whole lot of different things to compare, you know, what I was involved in – the things that I was doing. But the inner person always thought that there was something going on better – something going on better. So – but it wasn't nothing I dwelled on. You know, each and every day was a day. A day of school, a day of acquaintances, whatever was going on, and so my day was full of trying to get through a day, and think about the things I had to do, as a person. My own personal emotions and those things that were brought to me – to deal with that, so.

WW: Do you have any significant memories about—

JJ: Oh yeah. A lot of significant memories.

WW: Want to share a couple?

JJ: Well, I would say one of the – more than others – I have a lot of memories – but more significant memories was my exposure to church. It was something that I was very, very fond of. I liked it – I liked what it represented – I like what it stood for, what it meant, and it was very instrumental in my life, as my life has played out, even as I speak to you today. And that started around about when I was seven-eight years old. So that was very significant and very eye-opening, if you would. As a child, I began to dream, and think of things that were wonderful and good, even though I might not have been exposed to them personally, it put a dream in me. So that was very significant. Church.

WW: Where did you go to church?

JJ: I was baptized at eight years old at a church on Hastings and Alford, and it was Mt. Zion Baptist Church. And Reverend Tony, and he baptized me in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. And that was a – I don't want to use the word “magical” moment. It was a supernatural moment for me, at that age. And I think about it off and on, even today. And as I progress through life, when I would have these moments of – of exhilaration, if you will, these very fond moments, these moments of experiences that I've had, right at the top is that moment. So that's where I was baptized at, that's when it happened – at eight years old.

WW: Very nice. Where did you go to school at?

JJ: What ages?

WW: Oh, that's true. Go with elementary through high school.

JJ: When we stayed over on Alford and Hastings, I went to a school called Bishop. That school. I enjoyed that school; I enjoyed education. I enjoyed going to school. And as far as I know, I did pretty good. I drew a picture of a pirate ship and they hung it in the hallway, so I thought I did pretty good. My first book was King Arthur and the Round Table, I read that, and I had a lot of fun doing that. That was at Bishop School.

And after we moved from that side of town, the next school I went to was Russell School. We did stay – okay, we moved, and we stayed on Russell for a period of time as well – Mack Avenue, not too far from here, so I went to that school for a little while. I was growing up as a boy, so I did a lot of boy things, you know, swinging, high swings, jump out of them, and go to the playground and fight, ride bicycles, and so forth and so on. I was growing then, I went to Russell School, and then I went to a school called Condon – that was on Buchanan and the Boulevard. I also went to Hutchison Junior High School after Condon. And finished going to school at Northwestern High School, went there for a little while. I didn't stay, though. And I went to a school called Craft School. That was on the Boulevard and Vinewood, we stayed over in that area.

WW: When you first contacted us, you talked about trouble getting to school, and dealing with different – one, racism itself, and just other agitators. Could you speak to that? Was this during your teen years?

JJ: Yes, of course. When I made a reference about growing and learning about, you know, the city I lived in – you know, I wasn't exposed to that – that kind of – how can I put it – agitation, if you will, until I got into my teen years. At my home, my mom didn't teach hatred, you see. She always taught respecting other people, regardless of who they were – and in the neighborhoods that I lived in, it was predominantly African American, or Black American, but still, there were other cultures in the neighborhood too, but predominantly African American. When I stayed in southwest Detroit, we stayed in southwestern Detroit. Then that's still what it is - Mexican town, and so I lived around Aztecs, Mexicans if you will, and I had friends when I was growing up that were white – a couple of them, but it was only the two that was on the block, but it wasn't an issue, a racial issue – they were my friends, and I was their friend.

That was one of the issues that confounded me and began to confuse me as I got older. Getting to be exposed to hatred, if you will, for the reasons that didn't make sense to me, because I wasn't, coming up as a child, involved in those kinds of emotions, if you will. And as I got older, it got more intense. And the more intense it got, the more angrier I became, because I could not understand why this was coming, and to what good is supposed to come out of it. And if this is what it is, then, you know, how is it going to stop? You know, or is it just something that goes on forever? And as I continued to get older, and I got involved in understanding history, it was always here.

Then, I began to get very angry, because I didn't understand why people were treating one another in this way. And when I got to high school, when I began to learn about other counties and other ethnic groups, or the deliberate annihilation of people, I began then to get a little confused about, you know, what is this all about? When I read a little bit about it, and heard some – a little bit of the Holocaust, and I saw pictures, I couldn't understand it. How another human being could do that to another human being. And then I began to understand about what happened with the Armenians, and then in Africa. And then the Civil War, here in this country. When I began to understand history – some history – I kind of – if you will, checked out of society in a way. I didn't want to – I didn't want to deal with it. Because the answers wasn't there—for me. So I kind of went into a—I became a recluse. Not in the sense of – you know, abstaining from the world, I was still in the world, but I had no faith in it.

WW: This was in your high school years?

JJ: I was well into becoming a man by this time, yeah. I would say about fifteen. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, that was big for me. I didn't understand, you know, that. Then it seemed to snowball. Then was Martin Luther King Jr. Then after that was his brother. Then was Malcolm X. And then the issues of Medgar Evars, and the killing of the three children in Alabama. You know, it was like being in the rain, and being hit with a barrage of punches, and you just, you know, you can't fight back. But you're in such a daze—I was, personally—was in such a daze I didn't know which way to go—what to think. But I know I was angry.

So I needed to direct this in some kind of a way, and so I did what I thought I needed to do, to numb myself from all this agitation, you know, because it was just totally absurd. Those that wanted to do some good, had been taken out. And then those that were perpetrating anger and violence, seems like to me they were doing well. Ku Klux Klan seemed like they were doing well. The police in the city seemed like they were doing well. [laughter] Seemed kind of hopeless at that time. And yeah, I was about fifteen-sixteen years old. Then I began to have encounters, and that didn't make it any better.

WW: Encounter with police or with other youth?

JJ: Encounters with police – not that I provoked anything. Didn't have to. I was being provoked. Encounters with other groups. I went – went to a school called Jackson Junior High School, I forgot to mention that. That was over on the East Side, and I think I was about maybe sixteen then – these rival gangs would come up to the school, and I don't understand how they could get in the school, but they'd come into the school and everyone's jumping on the black students. So here we are, fighting in the school. Then I would come out on the street and you know, there were different times when you know, vehicles would pass by, and shout out names, and provoke.

And then at that same time all this is going on, it was well-known that the police would harass you. Walking down the street, wasn't intending to get in any trouble, just maybe walking, you know, or stopping on the corner, singing, or just – being a typical teenager. Not looking for any trouble. But be harassed. And so , you know, with all this going on, I took various avenues of escape.

I go back to what I was talking about, when I was eighteen years old, at that – you know, that happened at that time – but, I didn't have any affiliation with any strong beliefs, as a teenager. I was being watched over, of course – I can say that now – but at that time I didn't understand, you know, why even certain things were allowed to even happen. I'm talking to you with the understanding I had at that time. When I was at Northwestern High School – I loved school, and I did well in school – when I could. There were gangs in school, and I wasn't going to allow myself to be mishandled, if you will, so I fought back. And in between fighting other rival gangs, or gangs, you know, I would sit down – if I could get to a classroom and sit down, I would do well – have good grades, and I enjoyed it. And in high school, I became a musician, if you will, and I – sung in choir, and you know, we'd go out to the suburbs, to those schools, to perform, and it was like night and day! You know, old Northwestern, I mean, you got fifty kids in the classroom. Trying to learn algebra, I'm sitting in the back, it's ninety degrees in the classroom, I mean, I couldn't learn very well – or couldn't comprehend what I was learning.

But I did well in music, and I enjoyed school. But it wasn't too long after that I had to drop out to help my mom, you know, with some money, bring in some money, and I got a job. I was about seventeen-eighteen then. About seventeen. I got a job working for a brick company. When I went in the Marine Corps I did finish high school, and I did go to college a little bit.

But it was a lot going on there, so, you know – when I thought about giving this interview, I thought about, “What can I say?” You know, because certain things come, you know, and it's sometimes not fun to talk about. I don't get angry, but when I look at what's going on now, it's like deja vu. I personally didn't, you know, experience what's going on now, but you would think some things would have changed by now. And some things did – names and faces – but it's pretty much the same issues, that has not been resolved. It's been talked about – more talked about – but not much done.

I'm hop, skipping, and jumping around – if you want me to just stay on point on something -

WW: Oh no, it's fine – I'm not going to interrupt you. You're doing great. Just a couple of follow-up questions. The junior high school you went to – you talk about the gangs coming in to beat up the black students. Did you go to an integrated school? And were those attacks race-motivated? Like did they come in to try to get you to leave the school?

JJ: You know, Jackson Junior High School—because that school was in Kercheville, it was out near the Pointes—it doesn't exist any longer—the far East Side. We were bussed to that school, as well. So my assumption is that it was a mixed school. So the gangs that came in were not students. That was a gang, because they had black leather jackets on, they represented a gang. I thought, you know, once I would get in school, that the school authorities would protect the students, once we were in there. But that wasn't going on. So we had to fight, you know. I deduced that “Okay, nobody's going to help me, I guess I have to defend myself.”

Coming up as a child, and getting older, there wasn't, in my own personal life, a lot of defending going on. My mom was a single parent – mother – raising these children, and I was the second oldest, a boy – the oldest was my sister, and then it was me. And we were about two years apart. So if she's fifteen, I'm thirteen. So during these years she's fifteen, she's a girl. I'm thirteen. So a lot of protection fell on me. I had to protect my siblings – my younger ones, you know – they'd be out playing, someone wanted to bully them – well guess what? Big brother. So I was big brother. And I had to protect my mom. She was a young woman, so there were situations where there was disrespect going toward her, coming at her, and I had to protect her. So I was always defending, if you will. Defending myself, my family.

My granddaughter, she tickled me the other day – she was just sitting there, eating some popcorn, she said “Granddaddy, you was in the army?” I said no, I was in the Marine Corps. She paused for a moment – she's seven, she'll be eight in February – so she says, “Well why – why did you go? Why did you do that?” I said, “Well, to protect my country and protect my family.” She gets up, comes over, and gives me a kiss, and don't say nothing – sit back down.

So I said that to say – that's pretty much who I am.

WW: My next note is actually Marine Corps. So growing up in the city and experiencing racial tension and racial bigotry, how did that prepare you to be, like in the hardened situation of a Marine?

JJ: It didn't. I went into the Marine Corps at twenty-four. I was a professional musician from about twenty, right after the riots – '67 or '68 – I became a professional musician. We did real well in the city – we were very well-known, and contributed to, you know, some artists' success, if you will. I was a songwriter and a flat-out entertainer. I loved it.

But now drugs hit. And that was the worst thing that could ever happen, after the riots. The riots were bad enough, in '67. Social issues, assassinations, and what have you. It looked like, directly after that, drugs come into play. I mean, they've always been around, but it wasn't a social issue. I mean, there were those, back in the twenties, and before then. But it wasn't as rampant as it is today, and we didn't know a whole lot about that, as teenagers coming up. But after the riots, boom, there it was, and that just tore up the city. Individuals, not the city itself, but the individuals that partook of that, that lived in the city.

And I saw lives being destroyed—families. Good people—what I mean by that, people with promise, being tore down, amassing criminal records, becoming felons. The drugs just tearing them up in a physical and psychological way. So there were some issues in the group that I played in. And I decided that it was time for me to get out of the group, get out of the city. And that's when I joined the Marine Corps. I thought—and Vietnam was going on—I was fighting in the city, so I wasn't afraid of that. I was aware of that. One of my good friends I went to Northwestern with won the Congressional Medal of Honor, so, you know, there were boys—young boys at the time, young men, that became men—we were cut pretty much the same. Glen, you know, went in the Marine Corps. He survived, but lost a few limbs. I hadn't joined up then, but I had to get out, so I thought, I says, “Well okay, if I'm gonna go somewhere and be the best that I can be, I need to go.” The best, I believe, that could prepare me, for this.

And so I joined up and went into the Marine Corps. And plus it was attractive to me because I was an athlete, an athletic type person, you know, a ruffian  if you will. And then when I went and saw the pictures, the dress blues were attractive, so I joined the Marine Corps. So when I went through boot camp I did real well. Could have gotten dress blues out of boot camp, but I didn't have a high school education at the time. So they wanted to promote education so they gave dress blues to a guy who had three years of college, and he was the platoon secretary at that so that was very humiliating. He didn't do a whole lot of the rough work. [laughter] But it was okay, it was okay.

But after boot camp, and I went back, had orders cut to go to a camp out in California, I found racism in that. And that kind of blew me away a little bit, because it was allowed to fester. Wasn't no one ignorant of it, you know, we were all coming from different parts of the country – some from the South, some from the North, Midwest – but I was attracted to “we are one.” There's no black and white, you know, we are one. We're a fighting unit. Well – in a hostile firing zone, that might have been the case, if you were about to be overran – but if it wasn't an extreme situation like that, it's supposed to come forth, if you will. It's just supposed to be that way.

But it wasn't that way. There was just as much racism in there as there was out here, and I found myself fighting in there. There were groups of Marines that came from the South who wanted to do something to the Marines that came from the Midwest. Well, I mean, I wasn't going to let that happen! I wasn't going to let you beat up on me, to put it that way. I can't stop what you're thinking – but I wasn't going to let that happen to me. So we had several cases you know, instances where we had to fight.

The four years that I did in the Marine Corps – when I moved from one place to another – when I did finally go overseas, you know, it was a different issue over there. It wasn't as intense, if you will, overseas as it was stateside. But it was a great experience. I'm glad I had it. But I don't know what it's like now, but I know the history of the military has been that way. It's been like a segregated organization. Again, here you know, we have things going on, that's not new. There's been some progress made but my lord, after all these years, I mean, we're going into space, we're doing a whole lot of technical things, and that's okay, but we can't seem to take care of human issues. But we can develop a lot of stuff. That's a little perplexing to me.

WW: What years were you in the Marine Corps, exactly?

JJ: '71 to '75.

WW: I'm going to jump back to the sixties really quick.

JJ: Sure.

WW: First, before we talk about 1967, I want to get your thoughts on – you alluded to your opinion on certain social movements in the sixties – talking about how people were promoting violence were getting bigger while people who were promoting peace were getting smaller, and you talked about your feelings for Martin Luther King—MLK—and Malcolm X. Can you expand on that please?

JJ: Sure. When it became a national issue—it was an issue in my neighborhood, I didn't know it was a national issue—I knew what was going on around the corner, down the street, and on the main streets, you know, you get hearsay, I wasn't a big news person—I wasn't watching a whole lot of TV or reading a whole lot of newspapers. But I didn't know it was a national problem until I got older, and began to put my pulse on what was happening in this nation. When I start to hearing that there were other acts of violence being perpetrated on black folks, or African Americans, if you will, or people of color, my mind began to change as to what I think I need to be doing. Because I begin to see it as a “them and us” type of situation. And I didn't like that feeling, either.

But it was about surviving. It wasn't going to be mishandled, if you will. I just didn't have that kind of mind. So there was Martin Luther King, there was Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and then there were others advocating, like Marcus Garvey, you know, back to Africa, other individuals that would be promoting other types of violence, that wasn't associated with an organization. I knew those that just wanted to go around and just hurt people. And I said “No, no no no no, I'm not involved in anything like that, I'm not going to do that.” They had their own personal agenda. I was thinking more or less of belonging to something—an organization that promoted what I thought, you know, what was best for me.

So Martin Luther King—I honor the man—God's gift to man, mankind—and I believed what he was involved in, what he was doing, his message. But what I could not do was allow folk to beat up on me, or put a water hose on me. See that had already happened to me. I had already been abused by a couple of police before, physically, while I was handcuffed. So I couldn't do that. I felt like, at that time, you know, I would fight to the death. You know, wasn't going to let nobody do that to me.

So there was Malcolm X and then I listened to him, so I thought self-determination, that was good, I liked that. Standing up and doing for yourself – I'd always worked – I appreciated that type of message, you know, I didn't want folks doing for me, I wanted to do for myself. I wanted an education. I wanted to pursue goals, and I had some. But they assassinated him , or someone did. I mean, it's still going on about who did what, but he was assassinated.

The Black Panthers—I was about to join that organization, when I stayed over on Vinewood—they had an office on Magnolia and Sixteenth. But now, the problem I had with joining the Black Panthers was, I would fight those that wouldn’t fight me. But again, I wasn't going to do anything to anybody that had nothing to do with fighting me. I wasn't going to go out and just randomly choose people to do things to. I wasn't going to do that, so I didn't join them.

So ultimately, I didn't join anybody. [laughter] I didn't join no group. I wasn't going to go back to Africa because I didn't know anything about Africa. I'm from Detroit. I don't mean to say that in a funny way, but I'm thinking about what I was thinking about then. It was just like moving to the other side of town. When mom said we were moving, I wasn't all happy and clicking my heels, we're moving again! I was all mom, not again! Because it's new. Well, I'm a Detroiter. I danced at the Great Stone. I lived in neighborhoods, I went to various schools. I had acquaintances. Stevie Wonder and his brother went to Condon together, but Stevie would come out sometimes, we'd walk up the boulevard and sing. I mean, Detroit is my home. I went, set in Motown. I was going to do an interview. Got cold feet, walked out of Motown. But later I got into a group called Fun Company, and we did shows with Betty LaVette. We were her band, and we did Latin Quarters. We did a show for Roosevelt Gruyere, who came to town—he was the one that tackled Sirhan Sirhan at that situation when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. And other artists as well.

I'm a Detroiter. I love Detroit. So it wasn't about me—I would like to visit, and go there one day, but I didn't want to jump. That wasn't attractive for me to up and leave and go live someplace else. So I didn't join any movement. And that was that.

WW: Nice. Where were you living in 1967?

JJ: I was staying on Vinewood and Bennell. I had some friends stayed on Sixteenth and Magnolia, the place I was telling you about where the Black Panthers had a headquarters there. So I would go to a few blind pigs, and party. I never went to that one that was on Claremont, where it started. But I went to a couple on Euclid. I didn't frequent them a lot, but I knew about them. Claremont put you to mind of Hastings. It wasn't really about a black/white issue, it was just people not getting along with other people at certain times, whatever, because whatever the situation was, you know. So it was, you know, a lot of fighting and shooting going on in that particular area at the time, so I'm thinking the police had to—in certain precincts, you know, had to frequent certain areas that were known for shootouts or fights or what have you, and also illegal activities. But again, you know if you got frustrated police and frustrated people, that's a bad mixture. You know, that's no good, and that's what happened there.

And when it broke, I was standing outside and was hearing sirens, and so forth, and so on, and didn't nobody know what was going on—I didn't know what was going on—and then the word got out that there was a big fight going on. “Where? Where? Where is the fight?” Claremont. And I said, “That ain't nothing new.” But then it continued—more sirens. And I was discerning, “Something ain't right about this.” This is not just about no two or three people fighting. I'm hearing multiple emergency vehicles and just a lot of activity going down the street. I wasn't even in the area, I was about three or four miles away from that area.

And then I understood that it was a riot going on. “There's a riot going on. People being shot, killed, for looting. Looting!” “What's going on?” “Well the police jumped on someone over there, and blah blah blah blah blah.” So I wasn't totally shocked by it, but what troubled me was how it festered and got bigger and bigger. And bigger. It was like didn't nothing else matter anymore—getting an education, going to church, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, music—didn't nothing matter no more. This was just crazy. This was chaos. Of course, I didn't participate in it, because I didn't know what I could do, other than go out and fight against the authorities, the police—and I didn't see, you know, how that was going to remedy the problem. And certainly, breaking into stores and taking stuff, and setting places on fire, that was just totally not a part of what was going on. I mean, how could that fix the problem? And I thought that way at that time. So I didn't participate in anything. I just stood by and watched, and hear the gunfire, and be angry, and wonder, you know, “How could this get to be something like this?” And at the same time, remembering my own personal experiences. Understanding how it got be that way, but why those in authority—the elected officials, the movers, the shakers, the people that are responsible for shaping the community, the society—how could they let this happen?

So, that's where I was staying at that time.

WW: Do you have any particular memories that still stand out to you from those five days? Anything that you saw that was jarring, or—

JJ: Yeah. I saw the staging area for the National Guard. Central. Central High School, on Innwood. And when I looked at that, it was like, “Are we in the city of Detroit? Where are we at?” It was a totally new look. It was like there were no freedoms. This wasn't America, that I knew of. This was someplace else. Never forgot that scene. Military people walking around, firearms trained on citizens. That's what I saw. What I saw was the burning, the flames in the night sky. You know that was a terrible look. But what I heard—I didn't see—was different places I knew of, like the Algiers. People shot in the street, like dogs. So he had a TV, or a radio, or a bottle of pop. Is that worth taking a human being's life?

But I understand order. But how do you allow things to get to a certain stage, where you have to ask another human being to do that to another human being, and then say we have to restore order? What about the lessons of old? Shouldn't you have learned how to head off this sort of thing? So hearing about that was disturbing, just like it is today. But again, still more talk than action. You know, I'm sixty-eight years old, and I keep hearing folk, some folk, address what the problem is. “This is what we need to do. This is what we need to do. This is what we need to do.” It's like a broken record. And I'm saying “When are we gonna do it? When are we gonna do it?”

To see young people come up, like yourself, my children, and through their personal life lessons and experiences, they get sucked into that. “This is what we need to do.” Well, that was something that was said before you were born. Don't pick up that banner. Do something. We're going to get the education. And then we say “Well, I've been educated, so this is what we need to do.” Well, there were those that were educated then. They were saying the same thing, saying “This is what we need to do.”

We need to do what we know what we need to do. It's not like we don't know what to do. We just need to do it. It's different, it'll be different, it might be something that this world has never seen before. I was asked a question in the last interview, and I think about it, off and on, before I was even asked. “What do you think the future holds?” Well, the future is bright, if we make it that way. It's like Picasso. Picasso wasn't a painter because he didn't paint a picture. He painted a picture. Then everybody knew him. He didn't become who he is—or Rembrandt—because it was in their head. They put it on canvas. Now you gotta go across the street, pay to see it.

I liken it to throwing out a raft—a life raft. Somebody's drowning, you throw the raft out there, the person's not going to look up, say “Well I'm not going to grab this unless you tell me who threw it.” [laughter] They gonna grab it 'cause they're trying to save their life—don't care who threw it. It's out there. The truth is out there. What we need to do is, we just need to do it and stop passing the buck, so to speak. The future is bright if we make it bright. There's a scripture that says—it's Psalms 128—“Unless the lord builds a city, they belabor in vain, unless the lord watches over the city, the watchman watches.” Say well, “we're not religious!” Well, okay, but do you want some good? If you want some good, then go and get the information that's necessary to bring about that good. You can't wait for an elected official that's out here still trying to learn what's good and what's bad, or another human being to rise up. Martin Luther King quoted scripture. Said “I don't come to do my will. Come to do God's will.” Lot of people, listen to the speech, they forget that part was in there. It wasn't his thing.

If we're going to build a future for—let me rephrase—if the future's going to be bright for all the inhabitants—the old, the young, those that are babies now, the quote “millennials”—they label me a baby boomer, I don't know what that is [laughter]—but the “millennials”—you know, they draw these walls between us. Tear down these walls. I like what Reagan say - “Tear down these walls.” Quit building up walls. Black. White. Millenial. Baby boomer. Tear the walls down we're human beings and we all got to have the same stuff to survive. We have to have food to eat, and air to breathe. It's real simple. It's not rocket science. Going into space is a good thing. Kudos, that's great. But let's take care of what we need to take care of here, and for who we need to take care of. Then it makes that legit.

I may be philosophizing or I might be saying some things that may not sit well with other folk, but I'm not interested, I'm not in a popularity contest here. I have life experiences. I've seen some things, and I speak from experiences—personal experiences—but I also speak from a truth that existed long before we did. And throughout time, it hasn't failed.

So, if the future's going to be bright, we have to make it that way. We can't depend on somebody to come along, to do it for us, or to get out of University of Michigan, or Michigan State, or Harvard, or MIT. We waiting for them to graduate, or the elected official—whoever we elect, we wait for them. No, we can't wait. Our lives are at stake here. There are people who are suffering—look at the world today, and the things that's going on. We need a great educational system. We need systems in place to take care of those that's been damaged by the mistakes of others, 'cause they're out here. We need great medical care, 'cause there are people that need medical care. You think about the drug addicts and alcoholics that's out here, that need to be rehabilitated. Medical technology should be right there in the front, with education. And also, we need a great police force, we have to have that. But we need people to be sensitive to other people. And we need organizations to police themselves. Make sure that they're not folk that's up in there with personal agendas, that talk funny about other people.

Now we're dealing with this new thing that's going on, called terrorists—terrorism. That's not nothing new. I was being terrorized when I was twelve years old! [laughter] It wasn't from ISIS. It wasn't from nobody over that way. It was from where I lived. But that's new, and so that's something that we have to deal with, but we can't grow candidates for these kinds of ideologies, and I believe we do that when we mistreat citizens and force them to listen to rhetoric or ideologies that promote the destruction of another human being for their own glory.

Well, that's just a little something I just said. Don't know how I got off onto that rant, but anyway.

WW: Thank you very much for sitting down with me. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

JJ: I think I kind of, I talked too much already!

WW: I was engulfed in what you were saying, so no worries at all. All right, thank you very much for sitting down with me today. I greatly appreciate it.


William Winkel


Jonathan Jackson


Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit, MI


Jonathon Jackson.JPG


“Jonathon Jackson, December 16th, 2015,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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