Jesse Jackson Essay - Critical Essays

Jackson, Jesse


Jesse Jackson 1908–

Black American young adult novelist and biographer. Jackson utilizes his own cultural heritage in his novels about black teenagers growing up in America. Call Me Charley, published in 1945, was one of the first young adult books to deal openly with racial prejudice. Although Jackson's treatment of the black-white confrontation in this novel seems dated today, he was a pioneer in treating this subject matter realistically and his work retains historical significance. In this work and in his subsequent fiction, Jackson writes simply and eloquently of the universal problems and joys of adolescence while also considering the more specialized problems of the black ghetto teenager. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 2.)

May Lamberton Becker

[The story of Charles Moss, the first colored boy in Arlington Heights,] can be matched under like circumstances all over the United States, except that in some parts it would not work out so well as [in "Call Me Charley"]. (p. 18)

Even Tom—whose solid, unemotional friendship was quickened by constant proof that whenever they both got into trouble the colored boy would get the blame—was often impatient with the patience of Charley and thought him scared. Perhaps he was but of something larger than what happened. (pp. 18, 20)

A straight story of American boy-life, it is told largely in dialogue; the young author, whose ear is uncommonly sensitive, reproduces the staccato touch and distinctive turn of Negro speech without attributing dialect to educated Northern Negroes. His book is a contribution to understanding. (p. 20)

May Lamberton Becker, in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), November 11, 1945.

Jane H. Clarke

In Tessie, a young girl from Harlem encounters an entirely different city and an entirely different world when she wins a scholarship to Hobbe and becomes the first Negro student to attend the private school….

Although it is unlikely that Tessie's first day at Hobbe could have happened as it did, [Jesse Jackson] writes compassionately of a girl's struggle to face a strange world and be true to herself. (p. 34)

Jane H. Clarke, in Book World—Chicago Tribune, Part II (© 1968 Postrib Corp.), May 5, 1968.

Mary Louise Birmingham

[In "Tessie" a] ninth-grader from Harlem wins an ivy-clad scholarship and runs the gantlet of her first year in a mythical private school named Hobbe…. [Tessie's] conflict is so dense with implications for all of us, so absorbing in itself, that pages turn willy-nilly. All the same, the book is a barely passable effort to bridge communication gaps between the races, the generations, or the sexes.

One embarrassemnt is the author's … assumption that black ritual and idiom never leak from the inner city….

This is bloodless drawing-room tragicomedy, even narrower in scope than "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Miscegenation is dismissed at the outset as a potentiality, although Hobbe is coeducational and almost lily-white. Tessie scoffs at the thought of any love other than her soul-buddy, Jimmy, and thinks that "the question only showed how little her parents understood."

The author seems to agree with Tessie. To the pure all things are very pure indeed, and few problems so knotty that they cannot be straightened out with patience and a heated comb. (p. 30)

Mary Louise Birmingham, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 26, 1968.

Doris Innis

Juvenile books about Harlem and its residents fall into three main categories (or traps); those that romanticize life in Harlem, those that oversimplify it, and those that portray Harlem as a place from which the lucky ones escape. Tessie falls partly into the second category, but mostly into the third. These attitudes are obvious from the beginning. Bright 14-year old Tessie returns from a summer camp stay which has apparently dimmed her memories of unpleasant aspects of Harlem life and reacts as if she's returned to a minor nightmare. Tessie's escape route opens up when she wins a scholarship to Hobbe, an exclusive private school…. Tessie takes her scholarship, and the story chiefly concerns her resulting cross pressures; to win acceptance by Hobbe students without having her Harlem friends feel she has changed. The author handles this basic conflict in such confused and unconvincing ways that the end product is almost a hymn to the rather prevalent notion, more challenged now than ever before: to be white and middle class. Tessie's addiction to white social and aesthetic values is exemplified in the entire chapter devoted to what the author calls Tessie's hair problem, which, since it is kinky, she straightens, to conform to white standards of what hair should look like. Readers will inevitably be left with the unfortunate impression that Tessie, her verbal protestations to the contrary, has chosen the world of Hobbe and that it is the best of all possible worlds. (p. 169)

Doris Innis, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1968 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1968), October, 1968.

Betty Zoss

Twelve-years old and living in Columbus, Ohio, Stonewall Jackson [protagonist of "The Sickest Don't Always Die The Quickest"] suspects being black is a sin…. With Stoney, who has a spot on one lung, the reader lives and learns. It is better (literally) to swim than sink: the sickest do not always die the quickest.

Stoney's world will be news to many of all ages, black and white….

While our busy hero survives more sad-funny, boy-growing up scrapes than one week (in July, 1920) and a book this size, can quite afford, TSDADTQ is fresh, warm, honest Americana about a real American boy. Stoney should make a lot of friends. (p. 20)

Betty Zoss, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 14, 1971.

John W. Conner

Jesse Jackson is a very funny writer. In The Sickest Don't Always Die the Quickest he has created a black Tom Sawyer (Steeplehead) and a black Huckleberry Finn (Stonewall) who cavort irreverently through two weeks of hot July afternoons in 1920….

To support Steeplehead and Stonewall, the author recreates the black society which attends Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. These people and the white folks who control jobs held by blacks are a microcosm reflecting the foibles of a world with which the innocent but ornery Steeplehead and Stonewall constantly collide. (p. 665)

Stonewall and Steeplehead are twelve and thirteen respectively. Neither is willing to shed the...

(The entire section is 380 words.)


Jesse Jackson has given a full and moving account of the kind of discriminations a black child may encounter. In Call Me Charley … the young black, the only one in the neighborhood, is not welcome in the school but is tolerated. He has some bitter disappointments but gradually wins the respect and friendship of some of the boys. It is a touching story made more poignant by Charley's quiet, patient acceptance of his lot…. The author has too realistic an approach to suggest a complete solution, but he tells a good story of a brave, likable boy in a difficult world.

Charley Starts from Scratch …, a sequel, finds Charley graduated from high school and trying to find a job in a strange...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

John W. Conner

Adolescent readers who enjoyed meeting Stonewall Jackson and his pal Steeplehead in one of Jesse Jackson's previous books, The Sickest Don't Always Die the Quickest, will welcome the continued adventures of these two black adolescents who try to find jobs in a Southern city in 1925. But, before Stonewall starts job-hunting in earnest, Jesse Jackson treats his readers to the laying out, the funeral, and the survivor's feast in honor of Aunt Hettie, Stonewall's favorite aunt.

Jesse Jackson has a talent for combining description and fast-paced narrative….

The Fourteenth Cadillac is great fun to read. It will touch many adolescents where their weaknesses in familial...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Dorothy M. Broderick

Call Me Charley was the first book to present anything resembling a genuine black-white confrontation. (p. 166)

The verbal exchange and the threatening gestures do not lead to physical combat … at any time in the book….

[The bigot who gives Charley the most trouble is George.] He is pampered, a victim of his parents' prejudices, and the parents are shown as not really class people: a little too loud, a little too pushy.

This idea that "class" people do not behave badly is a direct descendant of the slave attitude that masters were "quality" folk and the nonslave-owning population was "poor white trash." It is also related to the idea that "happy slaves"...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Zena Sutherland

[Black in America is a] survey of black history in this country…. Emphasis is on the long struggle for freedom and equality. The text is adequately written and the photographs well chosen, but the book seems somewhat random in choice of material…. Although most of the black history books are written for slightly older readers, they are so much better written and so much more informative that a history as sketchy as this one pales in contrast. (pp. 130-31)

Zena Sutherland, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1974 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), April, 1974.

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Loraine Alterman

[Jesse Jackson's biography, The Life of Mahalia Jackson, Queen of the Gospel Singers] details the course of her life from her early years in New Orleans, where she first impressed people with her singing at age 5, through her triumphs all over the world and her brave participation in the civil rights movement….

Jesse Jackson makes it clear that she lived and breathed to spread the word of peace and love through gospel music.

Jesse Jackson tells the story well—explaining vividly why Miss Jackson stuck with gospel rather than singing the blues and how she was willing to do the toughest kind of housework for white people so that she could sing. There are times when the...

(The entire section is 242 words.)

John Rowe Townsend

[Among stories which were "contemporary" at the time but which now look dated is Call Me Charley, concerning] the acceptance of a black boy in a suburban community generally.

[In this book] the black characters bear injustice with a patience which now appears Uncle Tommish…. Charley Moss's mother in Call Me Charley advises him on the last page, 'As long as you work hard and try to do right, you will always find good [white] people like Doc Cunningham or Tom and his folks marching along with you in the right path.' Actually Charley is not without spirit; when someone addresses him as Sambo he says, 'My name is Charles. Sometimes I'm called Charley. Nobody calls me Sambo and gets away...

(The entire section is 252 words.)