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‘Magnificent Matriarch’: Myrna Carter Jackson, 82, Civil Rights Icon, Eulogized in Birmingham

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Myrna Carter Jackson was remembered Saturday for her role in the Birmingham Civil Rights movement who went on to become one of the city’s most visible and prominent activists. (Barnett Wright, The Birmingham Times)

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

Myrna Carter Jackson, the Birmingham civic activist and Foot Soldier, who died last week, was honored on Saturday as a “Working Warrior” “Queen of the Civil Rights Movement” and “Magnificent Matriarch”, among other accolades, during a 90-minute celebration at 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham.

Jackson, who was 82 when she died on May 31, was remembered for her role in the Birmingham Civil Rights movement as a Foot Soldier who was arrested and jailed twice during the 1963 marches and went on to become one of the city’s most visible and prominent activists, serving in leadership with the Birmingham NAACP.

“Today we are gathered to salute this deserving soldier … she volunteered to fight, she separated herself from those who were afraid to fight,” said the Rev. R.L. Patterson, pastor, Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church, who delivered the eulogy. “She suffered through threats at lunch counters, suffered the threat not knowing whether she would be put to death but with the power of her influence and her fight she kept moving.”

Patterson said Mrs. Jackson fought a fight that was worthy, honorable, notable and commendable. “Everybody’s fight is not a worthy fight, every fight is not an honorable fight, every fight is not a recommendable fight,” he said, … Myrna fought a good fight and she kept the faith.”

Mrs. Myrna Carter Jackson

Mrs. Jackson, who was born July 9, 1941, was an active member of the Metro Birmingham Branch of the NAACP and served as the first vice president for over 20 years and went on to establish the Women in the NAACP (WIN), where she served as the chairperson for 10 years.

Former Birmingham NAACP President Hezekiah Jackson who worked closely with Mrs. Jackson (no relation) thanked her for being “the Birmingham Queen of the Civil Rights Movement.”

“I want to take the liberty of declaring that she is Civil Rights royalty,” he said. “I want to thank Myrna Carter Jackson for loving me … whom she so affectionately called ‘My Hez.’ She would often times remind me when I was growing up, they said ‘she was my big sister.’ When I became an adult moving in her circles they said that ‘she was my mother.’ She wore all those titles with no blood lines as a badge of honor …”

He continued: “I want to thank Myrna Carter Jackson for being a magnificent matriarch … I was reminded she became the mother [to her siblings] when their mother died, she became my mother when I didn’t have one and I just want to thank her.”

Former Birmingham Mayor William Bell remembered seeing Mrs. Jackson for the first time when he was a “youngster” at New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Birmingham when he and his grandmother gathered with others to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“More importantly, I watched [Mrs. Jackson] demonstrate grace and determination in her continued struggle to make sure that all people were treated equally,” Bell said.

The former mayor also called Mrs. Jackson a “listening voice.”

“Part of the reason why I appointed her to the [Birmingham Housing Authority as a board member] is because  … she would always have her ear open to what the common person had to say, the struggles they were going through and she was committed and dedicated to making sure those struggles were lessened by the work that she did in the community and as a board member,” Bell said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson said everyone knew where they stood with Mrs. Jackson. There was no straddling the fence with her. If Myrna didn’t feel like you was doing nothing she would tell you, it didn’t matter where and nine times out of 10 she was right.”

The service drew a number of dignitaries including former Alabama senator Doug Jones; former Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot; former Southern Christian Leadership Conference president [SCLC] Bishop Calvin Woods and Chairwoman of the Birmingham-based Civil Rights Activist Committee, Paulette Roby.

The family read a resolution from Mayor Randall Woodfin declaring June 8, 2024 as “Myrna Carter Jackson Day” in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) announced last week that it will feature an exhibit in honor of Mrs. Jackson during its Juneteenth Celebration on Saturday, June 15. The memorial display, including original artwork of Mrs. Jackson, will be on view in the BCRI Rotunda through the end of July.

Updated at 10:07 a.m. on 6/10/2024 with additional quotes.