By Jim Campbell
Jack O’Dell died peacefully at 11:30 PM Pacific Time, Vancouver, BC, Canada, October 31, 2019 in the company of his family.
Jack was one of a ‘central cadre’ of Movement activists whose role and function were quiet but essential, vital and invaluable. His recent book CLIMBIN’ JACOB’S LADDER edited by Nikhil Pal Singh is witness to his centrality.
Jack’s lifetime of Civil Rights activism had its roots in the 1940’s beginning in the Merchant Marines followed by community activism in Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama. With the emergence of the Montgomery Movement and the student-led Sit-ins, his base of participation shifted to New York City. This was during the late 1950’s and the earliest modern-day organizing of the March on Washington under the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Jack was privy to the birth of FREEDOMWAYS, Dr. WEB DuBois’ last project before departing this country for Ghana. Jack wrote anonymously, mostly, throughout the magazine’s twenty-five year lifetime. He was a Professor at the Antioch Putney Center in Washington, DC; an Adviser to both “Presidential Campaigns of Jesse Jackson; and, recently, author of The Democracy Charter the latest framework for Movement Activists to discuss and organize around in their struggle for a substantive democracy in this country. To all intents and purposes, this is Jack’s challenging legacy agenda to ‘The Movement’ and all who are active in this patriotic endeavor.
On a personal note, Jack was a close Comrade in our long span of reading, studying and discussing from one campaign to the next over a sixty-year period. In essence, his wisdom and broader world experiences were an educator in its root meaning: leader. His patience in organizing with attention to comprehensive details in conjunction with overall strategic goals broaden and deepen the effectiveness of all who worked with him. He was consistent in his lifetime study and application of the science of dialectical materialism and leaves that example for all of us.
On a very popular TV Program in the tri-state area of New York City during the 1960’s, Herbert Aptheker was asked to describe his relationship with Dr. DuBois. After a long pause, Herbert replied in a choked voice, ‘He was my father.’ With Jack’s death, I now fully understand what Herbert meant.
Jack was my political father.