Edward Jackson, son of a slave and a plantation owner, left the South in the late 1800s, seeking opportunity in the Northeast and contemplating a move to Africa.
Last weekend 70 of Jackson's descendants, ranging in age from family patriarch Edward L. Jackson, 71, to 18-month-old Adrienne Bigelow, held a family reunion in Silver Spring.
Edward L. Jackson Sr., the only one of Jackson's 11 children still alive, said that his father moved to the Northeast "because he'd heard of Marcus Garvey and his back-to-Africa movement and wanted to find out about it, but by the time he got here (the movement) had died out."
The founder of the clan was born in 1863 in Morton, Miss., to a slave woman and the white plantation owner. Edward was one of 12 children she gave birth to who were fathered by her master.
"Edward Jackson was born to a slave, but I don't think he was one. He was born in 1863, two years before slavery was abolished. He never knew slavery," said Gertrude Hunter, one of his granddaughters, who is the head of family health planning at Howard University.
She said that Jackson left Mississippi "because he wanted to have an identity of his own, apart from being born to a slave and a master of a plantation. He was neither fish nor fowl."
The weekend party, held almost 50 years after Jackson's death, was the first large-scale reunion of his family. The family members are now scattered around the Baltimore-Washington area and in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, where Jackson eventually settled.
Hunter said that members of the family had tried to trace their ancestry for several years "before 'Roots'" but have been unable to find the names of Jackson's mother or the plantation owner. There are rumors in the family that the name Jackson comes from the founders of Jackson, Miss.
Edward L. Jackson Sr. and other relatives recalled some of the details of Jackson's life.
While still in Mississippi, he married Missouri Brown and they had six children. After she died, he left Mississppi and went to Indian Territory (now easter Oklahoma), where he married Arbell Ware, a part-Cherokee who bore five children.
Jackson lived for a time in New Jersey after he moved east in search of Marcus Garvey's movement. He eventually settled in Springfield, Mass., where he worked as a custodian for the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company until his death in 1929. He had married for a third time, to a Massachusetts native named Minnie Brothers.
Jackson's descendants work in a variety of professions.
"We have people in business, medicine, education, architecture, real estate," said Catheline Teixeira, whose home was the scene of the reunion.
Impetus for the reunion came from Edward L. Jackson Sr., she said, adding that "it was a great idea because many of the cousins had not seen each other before."
Relatives attending the reunion brought a buffet of cold meat and salads. Each branch of the family also brought pictures and photograph albums, and Robert Nash, a relative by marriage, drew a large poster of the Jackson family tree.
"This reunion was an idea whose time had come," said Edward L. Jackson Jr. "The reason we hadn't done it before was that a lot of people were away at college. It was hard to get everybody together."
Edward L. Jackson Sr., a resident of Northwest Washington, is a graduate of Springfield College in Massachusetts and has a doctorate in education from Pennsylvania State University. He was a director of health and physical education at Delaware State College and also worked at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, Howard University and Tuskegee. He is presently assistant to the dean of the Howard University Graduate School.