Beyond four walls: local pastor, minister remembered
When Rev. William T. Jackson died on Aug. 23, he left a legacy of compassion and advocacy that Salisbury ministers admired.
“He was quite a gentleman,” Rev. William Turner of True Power United Holiness Church said. “Uppercloth.”
A pastor, street preacher, advocate and father to the community, Jackson spent more than 30 years of his 63-year ministry career working to unify the city of Salisbury.
“He was just that kind of person who just wanted to make every minute of his time count,” Turner said. “He didn’t want any of his time to pass by without doing something constructive or without doing something positive for people in the community.”
Turner and Jackson were neighbors and neighboring preachers. In 1969, they both helped found the United Ministry Alliance to unite Salisbury African-American pastors in community ministry and outreach
But Jackson’s work in the ministry began many years earlier. Born the son of a sharecropper in 1930 in Chester, S.C., Jackson began working as a brick mason when he was 16.
“He would lay brick like you were painting a picture. He was very artistic and very detailed,” his son, Bishop George Jackson, said.
Jackson heard the call to ministry when he was 20, and preached his first sermon when he was 21. He had no formal training, his son said, but he had passion.
The next year, Jackson had to hang up his dreams when he was drafted to serve in the Korean War. He spent the next two years working as a medic state-side.
But Jackson never forgot his calling, and when he was honorably discharged from the military, he began preaching in Chester. From there he moved to Gastonia and then to Salisbury to pastor Gethsemane Baptist Church in 1965.
“Even though he lived in a small town, he had more of global perspective,” Bishop Jackson said.
Father to six children, Jackson balanced family life with ministry. He was dedicated to serving the community, not just members of his congregation, Bishop Jackson said. He was known for attending community events and for visiting people in the hospital, even if they didn’t attend his church.
“He didn’t confine what he did in ministry to a congregation,” Bishop Jackson said.
Jackson was known for being outspoken when he saw something wrong or in bad taste, Turner said. Brenda Agnew Williams was a teenager when Jackson served as the pastor for Gethsemane Baptist Church at a time when integration was new. To the African-American youth of Salisbury at the time, Jackson was something of a legend.
“He was like a father figure,” Williams said. ”We knew that he would fight for us.”
Williams says that when she was in high school, she remembers security guards ordering African-American students to leave integrated football games. But if Jackson was there, he wouldn’t let it slide. Williams said Jackson would leave the stadium, return with the student and march up to the security guards.
“He would advocate for that child,” she said.
And he would win.
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died in April 1968, Jackson again rose to serve his community.
“It was the first time I saw my dad cry in front of us,” his son said.
The African-American community in Salisbury was outraged, he said, particularly students at Livingstone. The next Sunday, Jackson, knowing that a good chunk of the young people in his church attended Livingstone, spoke to remind his congregation of what King stood for. He also spoke to community leaders and urged the African-American community in Salisbury to remain calm, spoke to their hurt and encouraged them.
“I saw him as a person who attempted to reconcile people instead of attempted to fan the flames and incite more anger,” Bishop Jackson said.
Over the years, Jackson gave everything he had to the city of Salisbury. Turner said that Jackson made room for community events and meetings, and kept tabs on those he couldn’t attend personally.
“He was a father-like figure. A model for the younger and an example for the old,” Turner said.
Turner remembers Jackson as a diverse person, someone who reached out to everyone. Bishop Jackson says that his father refused to let racial or economic barriers keep him from his calling — if someone needed comfort or to hear the gospel, he was there.
“He was the pastor, the preacher, the teacher,” he said. “The guy who felt that his pulpit was the whole neighborhood we lived in.”
Jackson served at three churches in Salisbury: Gethsemane Baptist Church, Yadkin Grove Baptist Church and spent 33 years at Macedonia Baptist Church. But Jackson did not believe in confining his ministry to a congregation. Around 1985, Bishop Jackson says his father took to street preaching.
He found this out one Sunday morning when he was home from grad school. He says his father asked to ride with him to another service. Bishop Jackson thought he meant they’d be going to another church. But his father pulled into a vacant parking lot, got out and began preaching.
“I thought he was out of his mind, personally,” he said.
But he saw how passionate his father was about sharing the gospel. And for Jackson, it wasn’t just about preaching the good news — his son says it was about showing others that ministry was doable outside of the four walls of a church.
“He wanted to demonstrate church in a non-traditional church setting,” Bishop Jackson said.
And Jackson inspired many. Turner said that community ministers admired and respected him. Jackson inspired Williams to pursue a Master’s in Christian Education from Hood Seminary, and she says Jackson had an incalculable impact upon her life. His son says that Jackson inspired him to go into the ministry.
It wasn’t his first choice. Jackson’s career wasn’t always easy, Bishop Jackson said — dealing with conflicting opinions and personalities is a natural part of being a pastor. Seeing the toll it took on his father was discouraging. But it never stopped Jackson.
“When you see someone go through so much to serve people who are so unappreciative, you sometimes want nothing to do with that,” he said. “But when you’re in the presence of someone who lives what they’re doing and they do it well, you can’t help but be impacted by that.”
George joined the ministry and now pastors at Citadel of Faith Christian Fellowship, Inc. in Salisbury. His father also pursued learning. After nearly a decade of preaching without formal education, Jackson earned his Bachelors of Theology from Hood Seminary and Livingstone College in 1972. But that wasn’t the end of Jackson’s thirst for knowledge.
“I was amazed at his commitment to education even after he was getting well stricken in years.” Turner said.
When he was 67, Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science from Livingstone College. When he was 72, he received a Masters of Divinity from Shaw University.
Jackson retired from being the pastor of Macedonia in 2014 — but he preached until his last day.
Bishop Jackson teaches at Cornerstone University in Thomasville, and at the beginning of every semester, passes on some advice his father gave him.
“Never be found guilty of not preaching the gospel.”
His father lived by that, he says, and he will, too.
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