At 78, community activist Bessie Jackson could embrace a life of retirement, but it’s just not in her nature to sit back with so much work to be done on behalf of people overlooked, marginalized, or simply hated.
“Jesus Christ is the center of my life, and he taught us to love, just love our neighbors,” she said. “The more we love and the more we do for others, the more we get back.”
Now, more than four decades after moving to the Highland Lakes from the Dallas area, Jackson has been nominated as a Burnet County Citizen of Note by the Burnet County Historical Commission. She and five other nominees will be recognized at a commission program set for 11 a.m. Thursday, July 29, in the Burnet County AgriLife Extension auditorium, 607 N. Vandeveer in Burnet. Other nominees are Faye Dockery, Roy Hilliard, Oscar Jones, Carroll McCoy, and Roy Oakley.
Jackson’s commitment and service to people and community come from her faith and her father, she said. The Rev. James Randon both preached and lived his faith while raising his family in Grapevine.
In 1980, Bessie, husband Henry, and their four children moved from the Dallas area to Marble Falls seeking a better life. She often felt the sting of bigotry in the big city, recalling a time when a woman with disdain and contempt in her voice ordered Jackson to get down on her knees and scrub floors, although it wasn’t her job.
Even in the Highland Lakes, the color of her skin affected the way some in the community treated her and her family. While prospective employers sounded positive over the phone, when Jackson showed up in person, the jobs were suddenly “filled.”
Not everyone reacted that way, Jackson said, citing local businessman Bill Bray and former Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Charles Hundley as among the people who helped open doors for her family.
Hundley, now retired, hired Jackson as an administrative assistant. She moved on from there to became a teacher’s aide for the Marble Falls High School’s resource program.
While working at the high school, Jackson witnessed a wide disparity in how students were disciplined or directed in their academic careers. Many times, kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds or minorities ended up disciplined differently than their peers. School officials or staff often directed such students into classes or academic paths that didn’t necessarily lead them to college or post-secondary education opportunities.
“You’re deciding on somebody else’s life,” Jackson recalled. “That’s just not right.”
While doing what she could in the school, Jackson realized changing the system would take more work. After landing a job at H-E-B as a pharmacy technician, and no longer a member of the MFISD staff, Jackson ran for and won a seat on the board of trustees.
On the board, she found other like-minded members who also were concerned about the disparities they saw in discipline and academic direction. The board began addressing and correcting those issues.
After leaving the school board, Jackson’s political career continued. In 2000, the family moved to Granite Shoals, where she served several terms on the City Council. Again, Jackson advocated on behalf of those who didn’t always have a voice.
Jackson also took a job at what was then the T.Q. Brown Community Center in Marble Falls. It’s now part of the Community Resource Centers of Texas, operated under the Texas Housing Foundation. She served as an advisor for AARP and revived the Elves for the Elderly program created by Jeanne Olsen. The program collects and distributes Christmas gifts for homebound elderly in the area, those often forgotten by others or with no family to bring presents.
Jackson also helped orchestrate a summer fan drive for the elderly and others without adequate cooling.
Throughout her life, Jackson’s faith has carried her and even lifted her over tough times, such as enduring the deaths of her sons Berry, 41, and Bryan, 42.
She continues to serve as part of the Mission Outreach program at St. Frederick’s Baptist Church in Marble Falls, where she has been a member since moving to the area. The program offers meals on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays to anyone who needs food. People can come in to eat, though the congregation also delivers meals when possible. For 38 years, Mission Outreach has served thousands of meals as well as offered a place of respite.
“We don’t have much, but every day, God provides,” Jackson said. “People show up, and we feed them. The thing is, the more we give away, the more that comes in. That’s the way God works. The Lord just keeps blessing this ministry to keep taking care of his people.”
An advocate for promoting Black history, Jackson is working with St. Frederick’s to build a local museum on the subject. She continues to be a voice for those who feel voiceless or unsure if they can and should speak up. She believes in doing the right thing, even when it’s risky or not popular.
“Right is right,” Jackson said. “We’re all part of this community, and we all need to work together.”
She said the Highland Lakes has made her a better person.
“In Dallas, I would have just been another Black statistic,” she said. “Here, I’ve broadened my knowledge beyond anything I could have in Dallas. This is my community. It’s all of ours neighborhood.”