He pushed for schools to reflect their students

Special to the Enquirer-HeraldJanuary 8, 2013 

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series of profiles on Clover-area residents and their connection to the community, to mark the 125th anniversary of the town of Clover.

When Stellie Jackson aspired to become the first black man on the Clover school board in 1972, he lost the election.

Jackson didn’t give up, though. He ran again in 1974, this time successfully, and established a legacy as one of Clover’s most influential black voices, especially for public education.

Jackson, 80, served for 16 years on the Clover school board before retiring in 1992. He fought for more black teachers and for more funding for free- and reduced-price lunch programs for poor children.

“It was an exciting time for me and the black community,” Jackson said during a recent interview. “When you’re the only one, sometimes your view can’t sway the other members, but at least you’re heard.”

Jackson advocated expanding programs that gave extra funding to schools with higher than average populations of poor students. The cash helped pay for free- and reduced-price lunches and extra support in the classroom.

Jackson says not everyone believed in the programs, but he saw them as a necessary component of preparing all students for success.

“Some people just don’t have the resources to provide what their kids need,” Jackson said. “Others choose not to, and abuse the system. But we have to help those children.”

Jackson says he also made more diversity within the school district one of his priorities. When he joined the Clover school board, he said, school integration had resulted in racially mixed classrooms, but the school work force still didn’t accurately reflect the student population.

He pushed school administrators and fellow board members to hire more African-American educators, he said.

“We didn’t make as much progress as I wanted,” he said. “But at least my opinion had a voice.”

Until Liz Johnson was appointed to the Clover board in 2011, Jackson had been the only member of the black community to sit on the board.

Jackson grew up in Clover, born in 1932 in the same small frame house his grandfather built in 1916. He attended high school at the all-black Roosevelt School, which served all of Clover’s black students.

After school, he worked in a textile mill and then for 30 years at the Clover Post Office. He also pastored a small church in Kings Mountain.

Even though Jackson never attended college, he said, education was always a priority. He and his wife, Mary Rawlinson of Clover, encouraged each of their three children to attend college.

“We worked hard so they could go to school,” he said. “And they all graduated from college without any student debt.”

Jackson raised his family on the same street where he grew up. For years, the Jacksons and Pegrams were the only families on Guinn Street.

Jackson still lives there, the third generation to live on the street.. “I’m just 200 feet from where I was born,” he said.

But when state road crews paved and named the street decades ago, they picked “Guinn” as its name after the family residing at the front of the street.

The problem? “They were just renters,” Jackson says with a chuckle. “It should be Jackson Street.”

Nevertheless, Jackson eventually received his namesake, in perhaps a more appropriate place.

Last year, the town of Clover named its new tutoring center at Roosevelt Park in Jackson’s honor. “That meant a lot to me,” he said.

Jackson said he plans to establish a scholarship that will help pay for students at that center to attend college.

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