Bethune-Cookman University President Edison and Mrs. Jackson. (Courtesy Photo)
Florence Jackson has no problem with being known as the woman who stands by her man. The new first lady of Bethune-Cookman University even admits that her husband, Edison Jackson, who was scheduled to be installed as the school’s sixth president on Oct. 16, is the head of their family.
“He earned that. I didn’t just give it to him. We grew together. He was not dictatorial,” she said in an interview with her husband during which it became obvious that she is a long way from being a traditional wife.
Mrs. Jackson adds that she will not be a traditional first lady of the historical Black university as well. And that suits her husband just fine. President and Mrs. Jackson will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary on Oct. 19, three days after he officially took over the reins of a college founded 109 years ago by Mary McLeod Bethune.
Mrs. Jackson first met her husband in their hometown of Heathsville, Va. They were in the first grade together and her mother was their teacher. They would eventually become childhood sweethearts, attending the same church, singing in the choir together and playing in the high school band. Both would go on to different colleges and they ended up getting married two years before they graduated.
Mrs. Jackson was a business major and her first job would be as a high school teacher in New Jersey where they eventually settled. Soon, President Jackson would get a job in Compton, Calif., and as most wives did in those days, she would pack their things and on they went with their two children.
From Compton to New York
In 1985, Jackson would become president of Compton Community College. By 1989, they would be packing their bags once again, headed back East where he had been offered the position of president of Medgar Evers College in New York City. He would hold that position until he decided to retire in 2009.
While Jackson served as president at both these colleges, Mrs. Jackson continued to have her own life. In addition to raising their children, she also maintained a full-time job in academia for 34 years until she retired. Their daughter Eulaynea Jackson Brooks is a superintendent of schools while son Terrence Jackson is a computer engineer.
After retiring from Medgar Evers, the Jacksons moved back to their Virginia hometown. Though she was enjoying their retirement, Mrs. Jackson noticed that her husband was not adjusting as well and wasn’t surprised when he told her he had been offered an interim position as president of B-CU.
“I learned early the need to be flexible. We had to move several times,” she said, adding she was fine with the move as long as it was an “interim” position.
“I was involved with Deltas (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.). I was very busy. He was getting restless. I was not shocked,” she continued.
Jackson officially became interim president of B-CU on May 13, 2012.
“Obviously, that didn’t work out,” Mrs. Jackson remarked.
Once again she was approached by her husband and told that he had been offered a permanent position.
“I was hesitant. People I have met here (in Daytona Beach) have been cordial,” Mrs. Jackson said, noting she gave in to her husband especially after he told her he would only hold the position for four years.
“I see myself in a supportive role. I’m one of his strongest supporters. He knows I’m always there for him. He can always come home no matter what,” Mrs. Jackson continued.
As far as her role at B-CU, Mrs. Jackson said, “I’m flexible. When things open up. I’ll address them at that time.’’
Along with Delta Sigma Theta, Mrs. Jackson has been active in the Links service organization. She currently volunteers at B-CU’s library two days a week and told the librarians to put her to work wherever they needed her. Like his wife, President Jackson was at ease as he shared his plans for the university for the remaining three years of his contract. Jackson said a major issue that needs to be addressed in the community is helping young men go back to school, especially young fathers.
“There is a pocket of young men aged out of the school system. We need to help them get back in the mainstream society – say to these young brothers there is hope,” he said.
Adopted elementary school in Daytona
Jackson also said he plans to address issues facing Black women as well in the community. One project Jackson is proud of is the university’s adoption of Turie T. Small Elementary, a predominately Black school in Daytona Beach. With a new K-16 initiative, Jackson said students from B-CU will serve as tutors at the school to help improve the success of the students. Jackson said there are plans to have a new student union building constructed in the place of the former Cookman Hall.
“Most institutions have one-stop shopping. Students should not have to walk all across campus,” he said. The new Student Union will include specialty shops.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I ignored conditions of student living,” he said, sharing that he had two student dorms – Curtis Hall and the Bronson Annex – gutted and renovated, plus added new furniture.
New Construction Planned
Jackson said two more residence halls will be constructed on the current football practice field before his presidency is concluded. Construction soon will begin on a new practice field for football players behind the Larry Handfield Training Center. Though many alumni and students want a new gym, Jackson said the funds for such an endeavor are not available.
So in the meantime the old gym will be enhanced and expanded to include new seating and locker rooms. B-CU surpassed projections enrolling a record 3,787 students for fall 2013. The projected enrollment for fall 2013 was 3,471. Jackson added that B-CU received nearly 10,000 applicants.
“Students from across the world see the value in a Bethune-Cookman education. We are focusing on academic excellence and that is drawing students who want a quality education,” he continued.
“I don’t want the university perceived as a last resort,” Preisdent Jackson said. “We can pick and choose.”