Thelma Jackson

Thelma Jackson was born around 1920 in Pennsylvania and grew up in Harlem and Mott Haven. Her parents were both immigrants from Barbados. Her father came to New York City via Cuba and Panama, where he worked on the Panama Canal. He was a carpenter who dreamed of becoming a civil engineer but was excluded from education because of his race. He went on to become a landlord and owned many apartment buildings. Her mother was a seamstress and mother of ten who refused to become a US citizen because black people did not have rights here. Both of her parents were excluded from labor unions because of their race. They moved to 248 East 136th Street (where she met and became lifelong friends with Norman Davis) when Thelma was 9, and she attended PS 31. She attended the College of Mt. St. Vincent on a scholarship and married an American Indian. At the time of her interview, in 2007, she lived on Faile Street in the South Bronx. She passed away before we could complete this interview.

You can listen to Thelma’s full interview, conducted with her friend Norman, here. You can hear Thelma talking about life in Mott Haven as one of its few black residents in the 1930s here.