Victory of Greenwood: S. M. & Eunice Jackson

S.M. & Eunice Jackson

Photo of S.M. & Eunice Jackson (right) courtesy of the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Princetta R. Newman

Often mentioned alongside John and Loula Williams and E. L. and Jeanne Goodwin as one of the greatest power couples of Greenwood, S. M. and Eunice Jackson were only married for five years. Yet, both Samuel Jackson and Eunice Cloman would each leave an indelible mark on North Tulsa’s history, and their short-lived partnership launched an iconic business that still operates today. Jack’s Memory Chapel is one of only two companies in Greenwood which can trace its roots back before the 1921 Massacre (the other being the Oklahoma Eagle). The Jackson family in Tulsa also shares a common lineage with the most famous Jackson family in the world. S. M. Jackson’s father was brother to Michael Jackson’s grandfather, connecting Greenwood’s history to the most awarded artist in the history of popular music.

S. M. Jackson
Choctaw medicine man July (“Jack”) Gale’s son, Israel, was born in 1838, in Amite, Mississippi. He was nicknamed “Nero” and also called “Son of Jack,” over time becoming known as “Nero Jackson.” Nero was sold to a plantation in Louisiana, where he met and married Emmaline Williams (1845 – 1930). After the Civil War, the couple made their way back to Mississippi. He had learned traditional medicine from his father and supported his family by selling healing herbs. He gained the reputation of being a great healer. People would travel from far and wide to be treated by him. The couple had fifteen children, including Samuel Malone Jackson, born in Centerville, Mississippi, on August 4, 1894.

Samuel earned his bachelor’s degree at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. He wanted to attend medical school, but did not have the money. Instead, he furthered his education at Cincinnati’s School of Embalming. After college, Jackson moved to Kokomo, Indiana, working for Frank W. Williams Dry Goods stocking inventory. When he saved up enough money ($2,000), he moved to Tulsa in 1917, eager to begin his career in the funeral business.

S. M. Jackson began working for a small funeral home owned by Reverend George Mowbray. However, early on, Mowbray suggested, “Jack, why don’t you start your own business? I’ll send everybody to you [that] I can.” With business partner James Henri Goodwin, the 23-year-old entrepreneur opened Jackson Undertaking Company in 1917, on 617 East Archer Street.

Eunice Jackson
Eunice Cloman was born in Lake Village, Arkansas on August 27, 1903, to John Allen Cloman (1868-1904) of Texas, and Bettie Rebecca (Walker) Cloman of Mississippi—both of whom were school teachers. The 1910 Census lists Eunice as “Enner” and indicates Bettie Cloman (widowed) as the head of the household with five children, owning a rooming house in Eufaula, Oklahoma.   

Bettie moved her family to Tulsa so that her children would have a better education. At the time, the school for colored children in Eufaula was only open four months out of the year. In a 2003 interview with the Tulsa World, Eunice explained that in Tulsa she and her siblings would have the opportunity to attend school for a complete term.

When 14-year-old Eunice Cloman got off the M. K. & T. train from Eufaula in 1917, she found the Greenwood district to be a bustling, lively place. Eunice was listed in the 1920 census as living with stepparents after her mother remarried, to Dock H. Pierce in Tulsa, OK. The historical record is unclear about where and when Eunice Cloman and Samuel Jackson met, but it is interesting that the two arrived in Greenwood in the same year.

During the Massacre
On the evening of May 31, 1921, S. M. Jackson was attending to four bodies at his funeral home. In a 1971 interview, Jackson told local writer and historian, Ruth Avery, “I had four dead bodies in my home when they set the building on fire. The white people burned them all up but one. I got the Mowbrays to take one out to my home on Kenosha.”

S. M. made his way out of the building helping an older woman as he fled the destruction: “She could hardly get along…and I took her across the street when I felt a shot. He hit her in the arm, and the bullet stopped right at my hand.” Jackson Undertaking was destroyed.  The only property the business had left after the Massacre was a hearse and an ambulance, saved by Otis Clark and his friend.

Journalist Tim Madigan’s book The Burning states that W. D. (Bill) Williams saw Jackson firing multiple shots at airplanes on the morning of June 1st. However, in Jackson’s 1971 interview with Ruth Avery, he contradicts this account, saying he only fired one shot with his .45 pistol and, too afraid to keep using it, he promptly hid the gun under his house.

Later that day, the National Guard ordered S. M. to help pick up the bodies off of Greenwood’s streets. He refused. He was then asked to embalm the bodies of Black residents since white undertakers refused to process the bodies of Black people. He did this work at the Stanley-McCune Funeral Home, since his own facilities were destroyed. He embalmed 26 people and was paid $12.50 per body—half his regular fee. In his interview with Avery, Jackson indicated that there were a large number of bodies that were burned and, therefore, he could not care for them. “We had so many people get killed that I didn’t know…the people were burned and some were shot. Those that weren’t shot went on up North.” 

In Eddie Faye Gates’ 1997 book They Came Searching, Eunice Cloman described what happened to her family: “…late in the evening of May 31st, we were sitting out in [our] yard and people were just running, just running toward us and hollering. Mama yelled, ‘What is the matter? Where are you people going?’ Someone replied, ‘There’s a riot over on Brickyard Hill. They’re just shooting everybody they can!’ More colored people came running by, so we joined the running crowd—men, women, and children—all just running like the devil himself was after them.” The Clomans had determined by about 9:00 am the next morning that they needed to escape the destruction. They were stopped by the National Guard and marched to Convention Hall. “As we would go along in the hot sun in the dust and dirt, they would shoot down at your feet and say, ‘Walk faster! Walk faster!'” Eunice and her family were not allowed to leave until 4:00 pm that evening. Her mother’s employer was a white woman who came to the Hall so that the Clomans would be released. She took them to her home, as Eunice described in this video footage, fed them, and cared for them.

At the time, the Clomans were living at 401 E. Dunbar Street. In Eddie Faye Gates’ 2003 book Riot On Greenwood: The Total Destruction Of Black Wall Street 1921, Eunice Cloman Jackson expressed her relief when they returned to their home to find that it had not been destroyed in the Massacre. Her family lived on a street with many white families. While looters attempted to burn the houses on her street, her white neighbors worked together pouring buckets of water over the houses so that they would not be burned. In an interview with Ruth Avery, Cloman stated that her stepfather, Dock Pierce, joined 55 other gravediggers to bury some of the people killed in the Massacre.

Lawsuit Against the City
Jackson Undertaking filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa, Mayor T. D. Evans, Police Commissioner J. M. Adkinson, Chief of Police J. R. Blaine, Sinclair Oil, Herman L. Newblock, John A. Gustafson, National Surety Co. (New York and OK), Lion Bonding and Surety Co. (Nebraska and Oklahoma), and United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. (Maryland and OK.).

The lawsuit stated that according to the city charter, the defendants should’ve passed and enacted adequate ordinances and laws for citizens’ protection and  failed to do so: “That by reason of the failure to enact such ordinances and laws for the protection of its citizens, the city’s officials and other persons, working in conjunction with the city’s officials and with the city’s servants, agents, and employees, did, prior to June 1st, 1921, form a conspiracy for the purpose and to the end of destroying the life of the citizens of Tulsa and to destroy property of said citizens…”

The lawsuit included several allegations, including the accusation that the three detention areas used to hold Greenwood’s residents had been arranged prior to the Massacre and that police captain George Blaine “did ride in an airplane, drop and cause to be dropped turpentine balls and bombs upon the houses of the plaintiff and diverse other persons in the city of Tulsa.” The court documents allege that St. Clair (Sinclair) Oil Co. furnished airplanes and was part of the conspiracy. The case was dismissed in 1937.

Rebuilding after the Massacre
Jackson wanted to raise awareness about what had happened during the Massacre. However, he was not a writer or researcher and felt he was not the right person to accomplish this. He raised $900 and hired writer and journalist Mary E. Jones Parrish, who wrote and published The Events of the Tulsa Disaster in 1923.

That same year, S. M. Jackson and Eunice Cloman were married. The couple contributed to Vernon A. M. E. Church’s rebuilding, and their names appear on one of the church’s iconic stained-glass windows. Eunice Cloman described in Eddie Faye Gates’ 2003 book They Came Searching, “After the riot, Black people rebuilt. They just were not going to be kept down. They were determined not to give up. So they rebuilt Greenwood, and it was just wonderful. It became known as the Black Wall Street of America.” 

The Jacksons’ gravestone indicates that they had one son together, Samuel M. Jackson, Jr., born August 12, 1925, and who died September 23, 1928. Eunice had taken Samuel Jr. to the pool at Berry Park and left him there unattended. He fell into the pool and drowned. The couple separated in 1928, after the death of their son.

While their families were separated, they remained close. Despite receiving no help from the city or insurance companies, Jackson Undertaking was rebuilt as the Jackson Funeral Home and was owned by S. M., Eunice, Esco and Bertha Jackson. They were business partners until 1948. The two Jackson families had a falling out, leading S. M. and  Eunice to open Jack’s Memory Chapel at 639 E. Marshall Place in 1948, which  continued to operate there until 1976. Maurice V. Jackson, Mrs. Eunice Cloman and Mr. James H. Black expanded the business and moved it to its current location at 801 E. 36th Street North.

B. C. Franklin’s autobiography, My Life and an Era, notes that Eunice Jackson was a member of the Oklahoma Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs. These clubs played a crucial role in Oklahoma, passing a state constitutional amendment in October, 1918, for women’s suffrage, almost two years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. From 1910 until well into the 1960s, these clubs were instrumental in promoting better conditions in schools, establishing public libraries, building parks and improving social conditions.

The Boy who would be King
The story of the Jackson family’s ancestors is detailed in Joe Jackson’s German-language memoir, Die Jacksons (The Jacksons), as well as the memoir, My Family, The Jacksons, written by Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine (Scruse) Jackson. The Jacksons had quite large families. Israel (“Nero”) Jackson fathered 21 children. Joe Jackson, the father of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael (the Jackson 5), was one of twenty siblings and had a total of 11 children of his own. Maurice V. Jackson was born on February 14, 1938, in Okmulgee County in the Bald Hill community to his parents, Adelle Littlejohn and S. M. Jackson. Maurice’s father and Michael’s grandfather (Samuel Joseph “Sam” Jackson) were brothers.

Joe Jackson brought his children from Detroit, Michigan, where they had been working with  Motown CEO Berry Gordy, to Tulsa to visit their local family in late spring of 1969. The children, especially 11-year-old Michael, enjoyed fishing, swimming and playing in Tulsa so much that they did not want to leave. However, producer Bobby Taylor and Berry Gordy decided that they wanted the family to move again to record at the label’s Los Angeles studio. Joe was a strict disciplinarian and would not hear any objection. Obeying the label’s instructions, he brought the Jackson 5 to Los Angeles, where they recorded the tracks that would become the group’s first full-length album, “Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5“, between May and August, 1969.

On December 14, 1969, the Jackson 5 would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show with young Michael delivering a masterful performance of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You.” The Jackson 5 returned to Tulsa to perform twice: on August 18, 1971, at the Tulsa Assembly Center Fairgrounds, and again on July 21, 1972, at the Tulsa Civic Center. A 1972 photograph of the band, Joe Jackson, and his uncle, S. M. Jackson, taken by Princetta Rudd Newman at S. M. Jackson’s home at 2709 North Lewis Avenue, is part of the collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. This would be one of the last photographs taken of Samuel M. Jackson, Sr., who died January 15, 1975, at the age of 80.

Keeping the Stories of Greenwood Alive
Princetta Rudd Newman’s father and Eunice Cloman’s brother, John Cloman, Jr., invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to Tulsa during the summer of 1960. Initially, King wrote back sending his regrets on not being able to appear, but eventually made time to stop in Tulsa after giving his speech in Oklahoma City on July 28th. James O. Goodwin introduced Reverend Ben Hill, who then introduced King. The event would continue to inspire the 17-year-old Newman throughout her career.

Newman used the storytelling skills she used working for Jack’s Memory Chapel, creating the funeral programs for families. She later taught English at Booker T. Washington and Rogers high schools and attended law school at the University of Tulsa. She worked as a newscaster at KRMG for two years and then opened a print shop. After her retirement, instead of resting, she has spent her time organizing community events celebrating Greenwood’s accomplishments, especially the influential figures during the 1930s through the 1960s. She still organizes tours of Greenwood and has produced calendars, brochures and other materials about significant figures in Greenwood’s history. 

In 2005, Newman organized the health fair Sound Health Advice Resource Experience (SHARE) Golden Days under her nonprofit Black Wall Street, Inc. In 2009, Newman collaborated with a marketing professional and Oklahoma Black Chamber of Commerce executive director Gail Crum to organize an event in Tulsa at the Greenwood Cultural Center to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration, which was covered in the New York Times

Eunice Cloman died on June 15, 2004, at the age of 100. Maurice V. Jackson passed away on May 27, 2020. Both families made it their life’s work to keep the stories of Greenwood  alive. The legacy of remembering and honoring the great individuals who fought tirelessly to keep Greenwood alive continues today through Newman. This passion has fueled her commitment to bring a one-of-a-kind visual account of Greenwood’s history to the public. Newman is in the final stages of publishing her book, If These Bricks Could Talk, a pictorial history of Greenwood told through her collection of more than 1,500 photographs of Greenwood (154 of which are housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture). The testimony of these families, which speaks strongly to their resilience, strength, ingenuity and perseverance, will be honored as it has never been before.

Leave a Reply