“What will you do with the inheritance?” Reverend Al Sharpton asked of those on attendance at Harold “Hal” Jackson’s celebration of life. Referring to the precious equity of these civil rights long and hard fought to which the generations that have followed seem to have become the heirs and heiresses. And it was a well placed question. The generation that fostered the Hal Jacksons, Percy Suttons, Martin Luther King, Jrs, Malcolm Xs and the like have all but gone away. And what Rev Al may have done a little more than insinuated is that we rest on the laurels of their accomplishments instead of follow by their great examples and press forward with the firm notion that this fight is not done.
This day, we mourned such a fighter. A true pioneer in civil rights, helping to forge a way for out people to share the same media outlets as the more “privileged” class. Having been told early on that “No ‘nigger’ would ever broadcast from that station” at WINX in the 40s, he left this earth not only having broadcast from those same call letters and countless others — but went on and became one half of the duo responsible for establishing the FIRST African American owned and operated radio station in the nation. Amplifying our accomplishments and trials. Amplifying our needs and wants. Amplifying our hopes and our dreams to whomever would listen and be concerned. I won’t go into the litany of accomplishments as they are too many to count but his 96/97 years on this earth were well spent. Google will give you the tip of the iceberg. Written in his own words “The House That Jack Built” will give it to you right from his own mind.
Upon beginning my employment at ICBC Broadcast Holdings, I was naive to the history in those walls. I only knew half of the story at best. I was six months shy of having had the opportunity to work in the building while the Chairman Emeritus, The Hon. Percy E. Sutton inhabited the Earth. I was versed in what he has done for our people and his place in history. But a history lesson was yet to be taught. I first laid eyes on Hal Jackson in my first Staff meeting. He sat there quietly, smiling (as he always did) while countless people walked up to him, greeted him, made sure he had all that he needed. And I watched. He was gracious and friendly. A touch hard of hearing, but that didn’t make him any less friendly regardless of what was being said. And then came Debi B. she swooped in and doted on him and loved on him and unimaginably, his smile got even bigger and warmer. Folks saw me staring, I guess. And different people took the opportunity to bring me up to speed. “He is a legend.” “He helped to build this place with the Chairman E.”. “WBLS / WLIB IS the house that Jack built.” I was humbled and felt that perhaps I should wait until I was introduced. I’d hate to impose on his space. My next staff meeting, I felt bolder. I went up to him and Debi and introduced myself. He smiled that platinum smile as if i was a long lost family member, “Hi, baby,” he sang as he took my hand and pulled me close for a kiss on the cheek. “Welcome to our family!”. I felt so special. I know I didn’t have the time under my belt like some folks had to know him and get to love him. But I felt like I had every right to feel just that way.
Months past and I was preparing for he birth of my cherub Goddess and they, having known me for less than a year, gifted us a GORGEOUS bassinet for her. I now have it to tell Athena one day that the first place she laid her head in our home was a gift from the legendary Hal and Debi Jackson.
On a photo shoot we orchestrated in December of 2011, quite possibly his last, he mused and doted on Debi… Chasing after her like a teenaged boy. The love in that room was undeniable. Hal loves his young bride and Debi loves her Jack.
The last time I saw Hal I was exiting the building while he was on his way in to put in some work (he has the Guinness World record for the DJ to have a radio show on air the longest… He worked until his last). He and Debi saw me as the walked into the lobby and his eyes lit up when they saw me “Hi, baby!” as I kissed him on the cheek. “How is that little baby girl of yours?” I updated him in how fast she is growing and he smiled with astonishment “they go so fast! She is loved!” he exclaimed. “You are loved!” I smiled at him and kissed Debi on the cheek and went on my way.
The celebration of life was a star studded assemblage of freedom fighters, artists, and black radio as far back as the mind can imagine. As well as loving fans who tuned in as long as they themselves could remember. And of course… His loving WBLS/WLIB family.
Rev. Al Sharpton made a poignant comparison of Hal to Caleb in the story of the exodus If Percy was Moses leading the charge – Hal was Caleb who saw the unlimited potential in the promised land where others saw a wasteland. Who stood by Moses side all the way through to the end. And upon realizing the dream they sought and being given a choice to retire in plentiful fields or serene beaches – he requested the mountain. Because there was always another pinnacle to reach. There was always more work to be done. More voices to be lifted. More Talented Teens to make aware of their potential. More and continued need to amplify our united struggle in a way that anyone could access should they have needed to hear it. He never rested on the laurels of his own or anyone else’s accomplishments. While I am sure he was aware of his legend status, you would never know. He was a humble faithful servant to his Lord and his people. He LIVED his motto “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Wholeheartedly and unselfishly he did it with every breath and thought.
I wonder if that Harlem neighborhood took notice of the majestic bells that filled the sky for one half of an hour after his services. These are the things they do when great men pass – amplify the message to the masses so that more will know who he was and what he did. I’m blessed to have crossed paths with him at all.
You will be sorely missed Mr. Jackson. Your family loves you.