Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Jackie Archer: A North Country Inspiration (Part 3)

Jackie Archer In early 1967, Jackie Archer, president of Plattsburgh’s NAACP chapter, twice addressed the Beekmantown PTA, once on the subject of teen drinking, and later about the importance of maintaining mental health.

When Black Power stories filled the media, she gave interviews to the press, explaining that whites needn’t fear violence. “They think Negroes want to take over, but they only want the rights that have been promised them.” she was quoted saying. “Some laws have helped the status of the Negro… but are only a scratch on the surface. If the men in Newark or Detroit had jobs they would not be rioting.”

When riots broke out during the summer, she told Larry Payton of the Press-Republican, “It was a culmination of all the injustices that have gone before. We [the NAACP] had anticipated increased difficulty, although certainly not of this magnitude.” Chiefly at fault, she said, were the white power structure and a system that together “breed police brutality … It’s the young Negro, hostile to police authority and brutality, who is rioting…. Remember, it’s been over a hundred years since the Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed the Negro equal rights in this country.”

In early April 1968, the idol of many, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was murdered. Dismayed at the sudden, stunning loss of a great leader, Jackie organized a memorial to her personal hero, bringing adherents of multiple faiths together three days after his murder to honor his memory.

Citing “a great deal of progress” for African Americans in area housing and employment, Jackie gave up the presidency of the NAACP later that year, but remained active in the organization and elsewhere as well. Added to the memberships and positions she already held, she had become chairman of the Parents’ Committee of Brownie Scout Troop 105; joined the Clinton-Essex County Council on the Arts; was named to the committee for Statewide Planning for Vocational Rehabilitation; and attended an Albany conference on the Importance of Women in Crime Prevention. Being in constant demand, she also maintained a rigorous speaking schedule at regional schools, church groups, and other organizations, including an address in May before the American Association of University Women.

Jackie and Lloyd Archer, upon request by members, were advisors to PSUC’s Black Onyx organization (the college’s Black Student Union). At an “Afro-American Fashion Show” that drew 175 attendees, she served as commentator and Lloyd participated as a model. Said Jackie, “African life has soul. Their imagery showed strong moral power…. These are proud black people identifying with their true heritage…. The black woman is awakening to her heritage of beauty.”

In early 1970, in alliance with national efforts, Black Onyx assumed an activist stance, presenting a list of demands to the college president. Aware of their inexperience at negotiating, they solicited Jackie and Lloyd to advise and guide them through the difficult process. The Archers helped maintain courteous, respectful discourse with administration officials while attaining some of the group’s goals.

In 1971, as a member of the League of Women Voters, Jackie served on the organization’s board as director of publicity and public relations. A few months later, those specific skills were called into use on her own behalf with the public airing of job-discrimination charges against the Clinton County Mental Health Services, of which she had been a supporting member for five years.

At issue was a civil service job as a mental health aide. Feeling she fit the criteria, Jackie took the exam, scored an 83, and was promptly passed over for a less-qualified candidate who — get this — hadn’t even taken the test. She told Roy Southworth, news editor of the Press-Republican that, “His [the director’s] staff questioned hiring me. His staff considered me as an activist. His staff felt that I might be a threat to them. His staff questioned my ability to get along with people…. I am second vice president of the Mental Health Association…. I am not here hat in hand, but because I feel I am fully qualified. I can come to no other conclusion but that I was denied this job for racial reasons.”

It also appeared that the job’s requirements were altered (reduced) during the process, allowing the selection of the other candidate. Board members listened to the claims by both sides and used fairly contorted explanations that concluded the director had the power to ignore test results and hire as he saw fit. It was dissatisfying and distasteful, but perhaps because of her active support for the association, Jackie didn’t pursue it to the state level.

In fact, later that year, she co-chaired the association’s committee guiding the establishment of a gift shop in Dannemora, where the creations of Dannemora State Hospital inmates would be displayed and sold. Then, after holding a concert by hospital patients there, Jackie was featured in newspaper photographs while donating the proceeds to two groups, the Children’s Home and the Mental Health Association. If nothing else, she was a person of honor, dedication, and integrity.

A month later, in early 1972, Jackie was elected first vice-president of the Mental Health Association and received an award for outstanding service. It seemed as if nothing could slow her down, but it was at that time a tremendous challenge arose: a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

It’s interesting — and a real tribute to Jackie — that for those who didn’t actually see her in person, there was no indication she was ill or disabled. Speeches at multiple venues continued, and along with all the causes she had supported over the years, she became the county’s most visible advocate for those of all abilities. Eventual confinement to a wheelchair opened her eyes to a whole new group of needy folks, and Jackie was just what they needed. Recently passed federal legislation required a wide range of accommodations so that people with various challenges could use public phones, public restrooms, court facilities, and navigate a seemingly endless array of obstacles that made simple tasks like crossing the street difficult to impossible. But passing the law was one thing. Enacting it was quite another.

In early 1977, after much planning, she formed ACID — the Active Coalition for Independence and Dignity — with several goals: identifying some common needs of those of all abilities, creating public awareness, eliminating barriers, and alleviating the shortage of housing, transportation, and recreational opportunities available to those less than fully able-bodied. She sought the city’s assistance in completing a barrier survey, and brought attention to the issues by distributing the pamphlet, “Equal Rights for the Disabled in New York State.” As with anything she pursued, passion and persistence were key. “A person has to do what a person has to do,” she once said. “With me, I cannot tolerate injustices to any person or group of people. Maybe it’s because as a black person, I have felt my own share.”

Any cause or person who needed help was sure to find it in Jackie. In 1983, it was Lt. Robert Goodman, a Navy airman shot down and held as a POW by Syria. She urged school children, scouts, and others to write letters ensuring Goodman that he was not forgotten. In 1986, she prodded folks to support Hands Across America, which benefited the hungry and homeless. For those unable to join the actual line, she encouraged them to donate money and have someone else stand in for them.

In 1988, working with two partners, she gained publicity for their effort to convince local schools that teaching black history and heritage was important. An editorial in Plattsburgh’s Press-Republican chastised local educators for their initial response that “not enough black students are enrolled in area schools to warrant an addition to the curricula.” Said the paper, “We wouldn’t be inclined to give schools passing grades for that attitude. A familiarity with black history is crucial if all people are to understand one another. History taught with a white slant is incomplete history. White children, as well as black, must be taught blacks’ role in the development of our nation if they are to empathize with the problems minorities have had to face for the past 200-plus years.

“You can’t solve racial biases, racial tensions, racial crises if you don’t know the races and how they have gotten to where they are…. Blacks and whites must understand each other and empathize with each other if they are to coexist productively. The quickest route to that understanding is through our children, who haven’t yet invented a reason to mistrust and hate.” [My italics.]

Kudos to the editor for a great line — “our children, who haven’t yet invented a reason to mistrust and hate.” Powerful and true.

That same year (1988), another honor was accorded Jackie: selection as the lone Jesse Jackson delegate from the 26th Congressional District to attend the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

Next week, the conclusion: fighting to the end, and a similar pioneer ancestor.

Images, from above: Jackie Archer (courtesy of her daughters, Taryn Archer and Tracey Lawson); Headline from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican (1967, 1868).

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

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