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James E. Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson Photographs

Call Number



1910-1995, inclusive
; 1960-1979, bulk


Jackson, Esther Cooper
Jackson, James E., 1914-2007
Jackson, James E., 1914-2007 (Role: Donor)
Jackson, Esther Cooper (Role: Donor)


4 boxes

Language of Materials

English .


James E. Jackson (1914-2007) and Esther Cooper Jackson (1917- ) are African-American communists and civil rights activists, best known for their role in founding and leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress (1937-1948). James Jackson was head of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) Louisiana state organization in 1946, and was a Party organizer in the automobile industry in Detroit from 1947 to 1950. He then moved to New York, becoming the Southern Director for the Communist Party. In 1951 he was indicted under the Smith Act (charged with advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government), and became a fugitive until 1955. He later served as the CPUSA's Educational Director and International Affairs Secretary, retiring in 1991. Esther Cooper Jackson served as the Executive Secretary of the Southern Negro Youth Congress from 1942-1946 and co-founded and served as the managing editor from 1961-86 of Freedomways, the influential African-American political and cultural quarterly. The collection consists of ca. 1,350 items (mainly black and white photographs), the largest part of which documents or derives from the international travels of the Jacksons—primarily James Jackson's travels as a representative of the CPUSA from the1950s through the 1980s; also included are a small number of family photographs and images documenting political and organizational activities of the Jacksons from 1930s through the 1950s and some images from Freedomways, mostly documenting cultural events sponsored by the magazine. Individuals represented include CPUSA leaders and activists, as well as leaders of Communist nations.

Historical/Biographical Note

James E. Jackson (1914-2007) and Esther Cooper Jackson (1917- ), African-American communists and civil rights activists, are best known for their role in founding and leading the Southern Negro Youth Congress (1937-1948). Both were raised in middle-class families with histories of civil rights activism. James Jackson graduated from Virginia Union University in 1934, and at Howard University (the alma mater of his parents) graduated from the College of Pharmacy in 1937. After attending Dunbar High School in Washington D.C., Esther Cooper graduated from Oberlin College in 1938, and completed her master's degree at Fisk University in 1940, writing as her thesis "Negro Women Domestic Workers in Relation to Trade Unionism." James Jackson joined the Communist Party in 1931, and Esther Cooper joined in 1939. The couple met in 1939 (they married in 1941) when James Jackson was staying at Fisk while working for Ralph Bunche as an investigator for what would become Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy(1944).

The Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC), a Communist-led popular front organization, held its first annual conference, organized by James Jackson and Ed Strong, in Richmond, in February 1937. Under its slogan "Freedom, Equality, Opportunity," the SNYC campaigned for the full range civil, economic, political, and social rights for African Americans. Activities and issues included, supporting labor organizing (including domestic workers), campaigns against lynching, police brutality, and the poll tax, for the right to vote and an end to segregation, for an end to employment discrimination (sometimes via consumer boycotts), and during World War II, for enforcement of regulations barring discrimination in war industries. The Jacksons played leading roles throughout the SNYC's first decade, Esther Jackson as Executive Secretary, and James Jackson as Special Projects Director, respectively. In 1939 the SNYC moved its headquarters to Birmingham, Alabama.

James Jackson entered the army in 1943 and served in the Burma theatre. In autumn 1945, Esther Jackson attended the World Youth Congress in London, where she met W. E. B. Du Bois, which marked the start of a close association the Jacksons and Du Bois. In 1946 James Jackson became State Chairman of the Communist Party of Louisiana. In 1947 the Jacksons moved to Detroit, where James Jackson began work as a Party organizer among the automobile workers, while Esther Jackson was active in the local branches of the Progressive Party and of the Civil Rights Congress, another popular front organization. In 1951 the Jacksons moved to New York and James Jackson was named Southern Director of the Communist Party. In June 1951, he was indicted under the Smith Act (charged with advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government) and went underground to avoid arrest. Emerging almost five years later, Jackson was sentenced to prison, but he did not serve time, as the Smith Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court shortly after.

Thereafter, James Jackson served as a full-time Party official, including as a member of its leading Political Bureau, and as Education Director and as International Affairs Secretary, in which capacity he traveled throughout the Communist countries and elsewhere. Meanwhile, in 1961 Esther Jackson helped found the influential African American political and cultural quarterly, Freedomways, and served as its editor throughout its years of publication, from 1961 to 1986. James Jackson retired in 1991, in the aftermath of the 1991 split in the CPUSA.


Folders are arranged chronologically within series, with the exception of series V and XIV, which are arranged alphabetically.

The files are grouped into sixteen series:

Missing Title

  1. I. James E. Jackson.
  2. II. Esther Cooper Jackson.
  3. III. Esther and James Jackson.
  4. IV. Group Pictures.
  5. V. Photographs of Others.
  6. VI. Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA).
  7. VII. Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).
  8. VIII. International Communist Parties.
  9. IX. Conferences.
  10. X. Miscellaneous Events.
  11. XI. Demonstrations and Rallies.
  12. XII. Southern Negro Youth Congress.
  13. XIII. Freedomways.
  14. XIV. Travel.
  15. XV. Negatives.
  16. XVI. Photo Album.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of ca. 1,350 images, mainly black and white photographs. The largest group of images documents the Jacksons' (in particular James Jackson's) extensive international travels in an official capacity for the CPUSA. These include trips as part of CPUSA delegations to international communist meetings convened in the Soviet Union. These consist almost entirely of official press photographs, including a leather-bound official presentation-type photograph album holding images from the 26th World Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in Moscow, 1959. Originally holding thirty (mainly 8 ½ x 6 inch) black and white prints (six became loose and are stored in a folder adjacent to the album; seven images are missing), most of these consist of iconic images of Moscow cityscapes and buildings, wide shots of the Congress and Nikita Khrushchev (then First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) addressing it, but a few are two-shots or group shots that include James Jackson. Also documented are journeys to state-sponsored gatherings in eastern European Soviet bloc countries including Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland, as well as trips to Canada, western Europe (England and France), Latin America (Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela), Africa (Ethiopia), and Asian countries. The latter include Cambodia, China, India, Mongolia, and North Korea, but most notably Vietnam (from 1963 to 1980). The photographs from the trips to Vietnam include a small group of images of Jackson interviewing American prisoners of war (including U.S. Navy Lieutenant-Commander Richard Allen Stratton) in 1968 at the North Vietnamese detention camp known as the "Hanoi Hilton." Also notable is a 1980 color snapshot of James Jackson with Madame Binh, former leader of the National Liberation Front's delegation to the 1970s U.S.–Vietnamese peace negotiations in Paris, although most of the photographs from Vietnam appear to be official Vietnamese press photographs documenting the destruction wreaked by the war rather than private photographs.

The collection also includes images of CPUSA leaders and luminaries (portraits or shown with James or Esther Jackson or the Jacksons together), such as Eugene Dennis, Gus Hall, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and prominent African-American communists Louis Burnham, Hosea Hudson, Henry Winston, Bessie Mitchell, and Angela Davis, as well as photographs of W. E. B. Du Bois. Also pictured with James Jackson are international communist leaders such as Ho Chi Minh, Nikita Khruschev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev; Henry Winston is shown posed with Fidel Castro. In addition, images from the files of Freedomwaysare included in the collection. These mainly document cultural events sponsored by the magazine, which include performers such as Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis, Pete Seeger, Miriam Makeba and Carmen De Lavallade. Also notable in this series are a small number of searing images of police pursuing and beating residents of Harlem and bleeding residents during a conflict that broke out in July 1964 following protests over the killing of an African-American man by a white police officer.

More sparsely represented in the collection are biographical and family photographs, images that relate to the SNYC, pictures of demonstrations (ranging from May Day rallies of the 1940s and 1980s to 1940s civil rights marches, protests against the war in Vietnam and an early protest against United States' intervention in Arab countries) and of delegations of African-Americans visiting government officials, including President Lyndon Johnson and Democratic Senator (and Progressive Party vice-presidential candidate) Glen Taylor of Idaho.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by James Jackson and Esther Cooper Jackson were transferred to New York University in 2005 by James and Esther Jackson. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives. Please contact, (212) 998-2630.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by James and Esther Jackson, 2005-2006. The accession numbers associated with this gift are 2006.002, NPA.2006.042, and NPA.2006.077

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Communist Party of the USA Photographs (Photos #223)

James E. and Esther Cooper Jackson Oral History Collection (Oral History #57)

James E. and Esther Cooper Jackson Graphics Collection (Graphics #26).

James E. and Esther Cooper Jackson Papers (Tamiment #347)

Collection processed by

Aniko Szucs and Erika Gottfried, 2006-2007

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:39:39 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Jackson Photos (Photos 221)


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012