Ramona Jackson: Skipping the Rest Stops

By Olivia Schneider 

In the 1960s, Ramona Jackson would drive her four sons from Brockton, Massachusetts to West Virginia to visit relatives, more than a day’s ride.

They always drove straight through, never stopping at a hotel, or even a restaurant, her oldest son, Miles, said.

It wasn’t by choice.

“Black folks just didn’t stay at the hotels or restaurants because they weren’t welcome,” he said. 

Miles Jackson, 58, said it would take years before he realized why his family drove straight to West Virginia. “When we were little we never knew. We just went for the ride,” he said.

His mother, born Charlotte Ramona Jackson, now 82, was born in Glen White, West Virginia. She graduated from an integrated, three-year program at St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing in Clarksburg, West Virginia. She married her husband, Theodore Anthony Jackson, in 1955. They moved to Boston soon after, and while she began work at the Boston Medical Center, now the Boston City Hospital, he worked as a barber on Tremont Street.

Growing up in West Virginia during the mid-twentieth century, everything was segregated. Everything that is, except the bus.

“Nobody had to get up and give their seats to whites,” Ramona Jackson said. “I didn’t think I was any inferior.”

In Boston, there weren’t any “official” segregation laws. But according to Jackson’s son Miles Jackson, now secretary of Brockton’s NAACP branch, segregation lurked in the public shadows.

“At the movies, blacks would sit in the balcony,” he said.

Ramona Jackson said she remembers marching in a parade condemning racism in Boston. Her husband was there, too, holding a sign that read “Stop Woolworth Segregation,” referring to the Woolworth’s department store on Boston’s Washington Street.

As a nurse in Boston, she still remembers one patient who didn’t want to be treated by a black nurse. 

“I said to him, ‘I’m very sorry, darling, but I’m not gonna assign you to any nurse. I’m going to take care of you. You better get used to this face,’” she said.

Ramona Jackson, 82, at Messiah Baptist Church in Brockton, Massachusetts

After the Jackson family moved north, many southern black families did the same— moving for jobs, safety or because their friends were moving.

The Jacksons moved to Brockton in 1968, and moved into a single-family home near Cardinal Spellman High School; most of the houses were single-family. The area was predominantly white, but it’s not something the family even thought about.

“We were just so happy to get out of the city,” Miles Jackson said. “King just got killed in April and my mother had been looking for a house.”

Ramona’s daughter-in-law is Cathy Jackson, Miles’ wife. Her parents moved north earlier than Ramona and Theodore. Coming from Mississippi in the 1940s, her parents came to Brockton looking for factory jobs, like many others among them.

Moving north was built around a system of networks, she said.

“People would say, ‘You can stay with me, get your family oriented until you got yourself situated,’” she said.

Miles and Cathy Jackson were both college students in the 70s, in some parts of America a tense racial period.

As a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1974, Cathy Jackson was roomed with a senior, a white girl. The roommate’s parents requested Jackson find another place to live. She refused.

“I said if you have a problem, you find a different place to live,” she said. “I don’t even know remember her name.”

Miles had a different experience, a good one, he said. A sophomore at UMASS Amherst in 1974-1975, his roommate was white.

“He didn’t see color.”

But Miles says in college they were focused on apartheid in South Africa, and Nelson Mandela.

“That was the big protest up on campus,” he said.

But now, Cathy Jackson knows that racism is all around, she said. Similar to instances of unofficial segregation, you won’t see it in the open, but you feel it.

“It’s in HR, social media. It’s where you put certain stores versus another area,” she said.

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