Community organizer Barbara Ann Jackson, known as an outspoken but big-hearted advocate for residents of the St. Thomas public housing development in New Orleans, died Dec. 15 of kidney failure at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center. She was 67.
For four decades, Jackson saw inequity and moved into action, her friend and fellow activist Barbara Major said. “Barbara’s mantra was, ‘This is wrong. What can we do to make this right?’ ” Major said.
Jackson, a Central City native, worked with like-minded residents in her neighborhood, across the city and across the nation on a long list of civil rights and quality-of-life issues: voting rights, police fairness, housing, health care, job training and employment, reproductive health and campaigns to curb hunger, poverty and over-incarceration.
But a half-century ago, she first developed her public voice on a different stage, as a blues singer who led her own band and performed with local stars such as Ernie K-Doe and Professor Longhair. She began to advocate on behalf of the voiceless soon after moving into St. Thomas with her seven children and an adopted niece.
In 1982, Jackson, along with friend and fellow St. Thomas resident Fannie McKnight, led a rent strike against the Housing Authority of New Orleans.
“Our utility bills were screaming high, the Housing Authority wasn’t fixing anything and people were getting sick as a result,” McKnight recalled.
The two women established an escrow account to help participating tenants avoid eviction. Throughout the yearlong strike, which ended when HANO agreed to modernize apartments and roll back utility fees, McKnight and Jackson kept careful records and collected HANO’s rent in the form of money orders from fellow tenants.
The strike was the first of a series of actions and lawsuits that Jackson launched against HANO to improve living conditions and agency practices. Ultimately, as president of the St. Thomas Resident Council, Jackson, with McKnight, helped to attract increased social services to the complex and to bring in community-oriented policing.
To accomplish all that required more than weekend rabble-rousing, Major said: “Barbara was a brilliant strategist. She could stand in the middle of noise and chaos, and make sense of it.”
Hope House Director Don Everard recalled that Jackson pushed to have troubled families not simply ousted from St. Thomas but instead ordered to appear before the Resident Council, whose members were able to speak plainly to their neighbors about what steps they needed to take to prevent eviction.
Ultimately, Jackson would help to negotiate the redevelopment of St. Thomas into the mixed-income River Garden community under the federal HOPE VI program.
Tulane University law professor Stacy Seicshnaydre worked with Jackson for several years on an agreement ensuring that qualified former St. Thomas residents received a preference to live in River Garden. When 100 off-site apartments promised by HANO become a reality, it will be because of Jackson, she said.
“It is because of Barbara’s involvement that we have a legally enforceable agreement to build off-site units,” Seicshnaydre said.
Jackson served as a volunteer, board member and founding member of various community institutions, including the St. Thomas Resident Council, St. Thomas Law Center, Citywide Resident Council, St. Thomas/Irish Channel Consortium and St. Thomas Community Clinic.
She received numerous awards for her community activism, including keys to the city from three consecutive mayors: Dutch Morial, Sidney Barthelemy and Marc Morial.
The nonprofit Hope House, 916 St. Andrew St., has set up a Barbara Jackson Community Endowment Fund in her honor, to help support resident services.
Survivors include five children, Sebrina Jackson-Robinson, Charles “Boobie” Jackson, Jasmen Jackson, Tasmen Jackson and Tammi Fleming; a sister; Diane Everett; 20 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren.
Services will be held Saturday at Israelite Baptist Church, 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m., followed by a funeral at 11 a.m.
A memorial procession will begin immediately afterward at Constance and Josephine streets. A repast in her honor will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Kingsley House, 1600 Constance St.
Burial will be in Providence Memorial Park. Rhodes Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.