Obituary for educator and civil rights chief Travis Jackson

Travis Jackson was nine years old in 1943 when Hillburn families of color launched a boycott of segregated schools.

The boycott of the families was ultimately successful. Black and Indian children in the small village on the edge of the Ramapo Mountains were sent to the newer school with white children.

This experience shaped the young Travis Jackson.

“I understood early on what segregation does to people,” Jackson said in a 2004 interview. “I knew what it felt like, and that’s why I became a teacher.”

Travis Jackson, a Suffern High School graduate and retired district teacher, speaks at a school committee meeting in November 2016.

Jackson died on June 24, 2021 at the age of 87.

A retired educator – he was the first black teacher at Suffern Middle School – Jackson was known for developing programs that focused on equity and diversity. Jackson was one of the earliest members of the Rockland Civil Rights Hall of Fame; he was also a respected athlete and coach.

“Travis Jackson never let his childhood, exposed to the injustice of racial segregation, limit his horizons or humanity,” said Bill Batson, associate editor of Nyack News & Views and creator of the Nyack Sketch Log. “He has worked his whole life to shape young minds as educators and to remind adults of the urgency of justice in public education as a leader.”

Batson knew Jackson from working together to preserve Rockland’s black history. There was also a personal bond – Batson’s grandmother Francis Lillian Avery Batson taught at the Brook School for Colored Children.

Jackson’s early years at this school shaped his understanding of educational equity. Brook was shabby and there was no indoor installation. But the village’s secondary school, which served white children, had modern conveniences like a full library and a nice playground, and plenty of room for Brook students who weren’t allowed to go there.

When Brook School families were fined for keeping their children at home to protest the conditions of their school, they were represented by a young NAACP attorney and future Supreme Court Justice named Thurgood Marshall.

The lessons Marshall learned about the emotional and educational implications of racial segregation helped him consolidate his case 11 years later as an attorney before the Supreme Court on the Brown vs. the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

Education: Critical Race Theory shakes New York schools’ pursuit of justice

East Ramapo: Will Cuomo sign controversial monitor law?

Black lives count: How a student slide show rocked Clarkstown schools

The Brook boycott ended with government intervention and colored children attending secondary school. When black and Indian children arrived at their new school, the white escape followed.

Jackson considered the painful lessons.

“I struggled with it for a while,” Jackson said in “Two Schools in Hillburn,” a 2017 documentary about the case. “What’s wrong with me that they don’t want to come to school with me? Later, after thinking it through, I changed my question to – what about them?

Joe Allen first met Jackson while filming Two Schools In Hillburn, a project he said would not have been successful without Jackson.

“It was Travis who set the story of what happened,” said Allen. “He introduced me to his friends and told me who the good guys and who the bad guys were, something that might end up hidden.”

Travis Jackson at the Thurgood Marshall Memorial at Hillburn School.  Jackson was a student at Hillburn's Brook School when Marshall was fighting to close two small elementary schools.

Allen told how he presented “Two Schools in Hillburn” at Suffern High School with Jackson by his side. Even in retirement, Jackson fully engaged his young audience.

“Students get the open door to learning and lighting through their teacher,” said Allen. “If you have that one teacher in your life who is changing the way you live, you are in luck. Lots of young people were fortunate enough to have Travis Jackson. “

“He was a gem for the Hillburn community,” said Kory Mahaffey, a former Hillburn Village trustee who served with Jackson on the Hillburn Community Scholarship Committee for many years.

Batson said honoring Jackson’s legacy requires remembering a full history of Rockland. “That Hillburn once had two public schools named for race,” said Batson, trying to ensure that “nothing like this happens again in our county or our country.”

Jackson and former educator, Deborah Spencer, married in 1966. He also leaves behind his children – daughter Susan Delaney and son Travis W. Jackson – who both became educators. Jackson was a US Army veteran.

The tour is scheduled for Wednesday June 30th and Thursday July 1st at the Wanamaker & Carlough Funeral Home, 177 Route 59, Suffern, 4-8pm. The funeral is scheduled for Friday July 2nd at 10.30am at Wanamaker & Carlough in Suffern.

Nancy Cutler writes about People & Policy. Click here for their latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland.

Comments are closed.