By Barney Blakeney
As our community continues its celebration of Women’s History Month, among the local figures looming prominently is Christine O. Jackson. Mrs. Jackson led the Greater Charleston YWCA, formerly the Coming Street YWCA, 37 years from 1966-2003. Under her leadership the YWCA withstood vestiges of racial segregation to emerge as the local community’s premier organization inspiring generations of young ladies to become strong leaders and advocates for opportunity and equity for all women.
Mrs. Jackson, a native of Marion, Alabama, came to Charleston as a home economist for Clemson University Extension Service in 1963 following her husband, the late Rev. E.L. Jackson, a football coach and Physical Education teacher in Charleston County public schools. He later would become pastor of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in North Charleston. The pair migrated to Charleston after Jackson’s husband was fired from his job in Alabama for marching for civil rights. The fight for equality and justice was a part of the couple’s make-up. It’s a family trait. Mrs. Jackson is first cousin to Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin L. King Jr.
A graduate of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Tennessee State College in Nashville, Tennessee, service to her community was inbred in Mrs. Jackson. Her parents and brother participated in the March 1965 ‘Bloody Sunday’ crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Her husband was fired for marching with King to the Alabama Statehouse to pray. When the job as executive director of the Coming Street YWCA became available, Mrs. Jackson saw an opportunity to magnify her service.
Generations of girls and women had come to know the Coming Street YWCA as both refuge and resource since its 1907 inception. Between 1918-1920 the Coming Street YWCA became affiliated with the Central YWCA (Society Street) as the racial segregation of the times dictated. Until 1969 it functioned as a branch of the Central YWCA. But during those years, the Coming Street YWCA was at the forefront of most social movements – from voting rights and civil rights to pay equity and violence prevention. The Coming Street YWCA was a powerful force for women’s rights and equal opportunity.
In 1967, racism led the Central YWCA to disaffiliate with the national organization rather than integrate. The George Street YWCA, as it was called, then became the Christian Family Y. But the Central YWCA had held the Coming Street YWCA’s deed to its property since 1920 when it paid off the Coming Street YWCA’s founder’s initial $3,000 mortgage. It took several years of legal wrangling to secure the deed.
Under Mrs. Jackson’s leadership, the Coming Street YWCA weathered that storm and despite race-based discrimination maintained a course to unprecedented growth as well. The separation proved beneficial. Not only has the Coming Street YWCA survived joining others in Sumter and Greenville as the only affiliates in the state, it has thrived.
In 1972, the YWCA began its annual Martin L. King Jr. Holiday observance. The observance has grown to include area worship services, an ecumenical service, youth programs, recognition awards, ongoing non-violence programs, a combined African American/Jewish program and its annual Business and Professional Breakfast and holiday parade. At the forefront of those activities has been the YWCA’s 37-year veteran executive director now retired, Mrs. Jackson.
Beyond the high school dances that color the memories of several generations of peninsula residents, the YWCA’s programs continue to inspire new generations. And from its new location West Ashley, the organization looks to continue its service into the future focusing on technology, the arts and its other programs.
Mrs. Jackson, a recipient of the South Carolina Order of the Palmetto said she is blessed beyond millions and as a cancer survivor since being diagnosed in 1963 will continue to live life to its fullest. Because of her guidance, the Greater Charleston YWCA also will live to its fullest potential.