Community activist Bessie Jackson could lead a retired life at 78, but it is just not in her nature to sit back with so much work to be done for people who are overlooked, marginalized, or simply hated.
“Jesus Christ is the center of my life and he taught us to love, to love only our neighbors,” she said. “The more we love and the more we do for others, the more we get in return.”
Now, more than four decades after moving to the Highland Lakes from the Dallas area, Jackson has been nominated as a Major Citizen of Burnet County by the Burnet County Historical Commission. She and five other nominees will be recognized in a committee program scheduled for Thursday, July 29th at 11 a.m. at the AgriLife Extension Auditorium, Burnet County, 607 N. Vandeveer, Burnet. Other nominees are Faye Dockery, Roy Hilliard, Oscar Jones, Carroll McCoy and Roy Oakley.
Jackson’s commitment and service to people and the community comes from her faith and her father, she said. Rev. James Randon preached and lived his faith while raising his family in Grapevine.
In 1980, Bessie, husband Henry, and their four children moved to Marble Falls from the Dallas area for a better life. She often felt the sting of bigotry in the big city and remembered a time when a woman, with scorn and scorn in her voice, ordered Jackson to get on his knees and scrub the floor, even though it wasn’t her job.
Even in the Highland Lakes, the color of her skin influenced the way some in the community treated her and her family. While prospective employers sounded positive on the phone, the positions were suddenly “filled” when Jackson showed up in person.
Not all had reacted that way, Jackson said, citing local businessman Bill Bray and former superintendent of the Marble Falls Independent School District Charles Hundley as among the people who helped their families open doors.
Hundley, now retired, hired Jackson as an administrative assistant. From there she switched to teaching the resource program at Marble Falls High School.
While working in high school, Jackson experienced a huge discrepancy in the discipline or guidance of students in their academic careers. Often times, children from a lower socio-economic background or from minorities were disciplined differently than their peers. School officials or staff often directed such students into classes or academic pathways that did not necessarily lead them to college or post-secondary education opportunities.
“You make someone else’s life,” Jackson recalled. “That’s just not right.”
While doing what she could in school, Jackson realized that changing the system would require more work. After getting a job at HEB as a pharmacy technician and no longer being a member of the MFISD employee, Jackson ran for and won a seat on the board of trustees.
On the board, she found other like-minded members who were also concerned about the differences they saw in discipline and academic direction. The board began to address and correct these issues.
After leaving the school board, Jackson’s political career continued. In 2000 the family moved to Granite Shoals where they served several terms on the city council. Here, too, Jackson stood up for those who did not always have a voice.
Jackson also took a job at what was then the TQ Brown Community Center in Marble Falls. It is now part of the Community Resource Centers of Texas operated by the Texas Housing Foundation. She served as a consultant for AARP and reinvigorated the Elves for the Elderly program initiated by Jeanne Olsen. The program collects and distributes Christmas gifts to elderly people in the area who are tied to their homes, who are often forgotten by others, or who have no families to bring gifts.
Jackson also helped orchestrate a summer fan drive for the elderly and others without adequate cooling.
Jackson’s faith has carried her all her life and has carried her through difficult times such as the deaths of their sons Berry, 41, and Bryan, 42.
She continues to serve as part of the Mission Outreach program at St. Frederick’s Baptist Church in Marble Falls, where she has been a member since moving to the area. The program offers meals on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for those in need of food. People can come to eat, although the community also provides meals when possible. For 38 years, Mission Outreach has served thousands of meals and provided a place to relax.
“We don’t have much, but God makes sure of it every day,” Jackson said. “People show up and we feed them. The thing is, the more we give away, the more that comes in. This is how God works. The Lord just continues to bless this ministry to continue caring for His people. ”
Jackson is a supporter of black history and is working with St. Frederick’s to build a local museum on the subject. She continues to be a voice for those who feel voiceless or unsure whether they can and should speak out. She believes in doing the right thing, even if it’s risky or not popular.
“Right is right,” said Jackson. “We are all part of this community and we all have to work together.”
She said the Highland Lakes made her a better person.
“In Dallas, I would have been just another Black statistic,” she said. “Here I expanded my knowledge beyond anything I could have in Dallas. This is my community. It’s all our neighborhood. “