Ulyses Jackson, a WWII veteran, turns 103

Kyana Harris | 6/21/2018, 12:13 p.m.
Last Friday family and friends gathered in the Rochdale neighborhood of Queens to celebrate Ulyses Jackson turning 103 Thursday, June ...
Ulyses Jackson Contributed

Last Friday family and friends gathered in the Rochdale neighborhood of Queens to celebrate Ulyses Jackson turning 103 Thursday, June 14. His daughter wheeled him in as he waved at his partygoers and exclaimed, “It’s my birthday!” His great-grandchildren buzzed around the room while older members of the family embraced him. Although he was vibrant and excited, he was not really up for an interview. In the community room there were framed photos of him at his 100th birthday celebration, and with his great-grandchildren. He was also presented with a certificate of recognition by the local senator’s representative.

Born in Winnsboro, S.C., June 15, 1915, Jackson has seen the world change dramatically during his lifetime. As a child, he recalls working on a plantation, picking cotton alongside his family of seven. He had two brothers and two twin sisters.

He recalls his time in the army as being turbulent. As a young Black man in his early 20s, he envisioned himself fighting for his country. In reality, Black soldiers in his unit were prohibited from using loaded guns and instead were instructed to stand on the front lines as “posts.” The only time they were allowed to fire a gun was at the shooting range during basic training. Jackson grew frustrated with the limitations he faced while serving his time in World War II. He was eventually dishonorably discharged.

After the war, Jackson returned to an equally violent, segregated south. When lynchings in his hometown of Winnsboro became rampant, his mother urged him to go up north where it would be more safe for a young Black man. In 1946 hemoved to 125th street in Harlem. That was not uncommon because at the time many New York landlords would refuse Black tenants. Harlem became the neighborhood with the fastest growing population of Blacks.

He made the most of this historic time in Harlem. “When he came home from the army, he would walk down the busy streets of Harlem in uniform to attract the women in the beauty shop,” said his daughter Shelley Jackson. Jackson was known for getting dressed up and dancing in the Savoy ballroom on Lenox Avenue with his brother Richard. Although the Cotton Club was a whites only venue, he found his way in through the back of the club. There he saw all the musical greats of the big band and swing era such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Count Basie. During this simpler time, he used to walk from Harlem to the Bronx to see the Yankees. At the time, a train ride only cost 5 cents.

Jackson is a father of six. He raised his children in Jamaica, Queens. Daughter Shelley describes him as a caring father. “He took us out to the beach, Coney Island, and swimming at the Astoria pool in Queens,” she said. “My father has been through a lot. He is a strong man who overcame all the obstacles. I thank God every day; it’s a blessing that he is still here with me. God has blessed my father.”