Born in 1925 to Kennon Cheek and Pearl Cotton,
community involvement and service was already in her blood. Her grandfather, Rubin
Cheek, was a freed slave and stonemason who came to Chapel Hill from Warren
County after emancipation. He worked for the University, and some of the
results of his craftsmanship still stand around the campus.
Her father, Kennon Cheek, started the Janitorial
Association of the University to give a voice to workers at UNC.
Jackson was an avid member of St. Joseph’s Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church. She taught at the Sunday School, acted as church
secretary and archived the history of the church as the historian. Some of this
history was also her own — after the church was built in 1898, a fire destroyed
it one evening and her father was one of the men who helped rebuild it.
Jackson attended the Orange County Training School, which
became known as Northside Elementary in 1951, and graduated from St.
Augustine’s College in 1946.
After graduation she worked for North Carolina
Mutual Life Insurance Company, one of the first African-American owned
insurance companies in the United States. She took two buses every day during
this time — one from Chapel Hill to Durham in the morning and one returning home
in the evening to take care of her family.
She married Boyd Jackson Sr. and had two sons. The
couple was married for more than 60 years.
Growing up a poor black woman in the South did not
come without challenges for Jackson. Her son Reginald Jackson said he remembers the way she would aim to defy stereotypes with quiet dignity.
Boyd Jackson Jr. said when white college students from the University passed
by her and her sons and shouted racial slurs at them, she told them to ignore the aggressive words because they were said out of ignorance.
During the Civil Rights movement, her young children
kept her from joining the marches, but she encouraged others to be politically
active and to vote.
Jackson wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and voice her
opinion, Boyd Jackson Jr. said.
In addition to North Carolina Mutual, Jackson also
worked for N.C. Memorial Hospital’s Blood Bank, Bynum Weaver Funeral Home,
Granville Towers Dining Services and Knott’s Funeral Home.
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In 2008, the Jackson Center was founded to preserve
history and build community in Northside and was named after Marian. At Jackson’s
memorial service, Vaughan explained why.
“She embodied the resilient, truth-telling faith that
has sustained this community,” he said.
The Chapel Hill Historical Society named her a Town
Treasure in 2015, a recognition that identifies people who have made great
contributions to Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
Marian's long history in the town gave her the insight to
see and understand the happenings in the community. She was known for saying: “Without the past, we have no future.”
Despite all her accomplishments over the years as a
leader and a friend, she remained humble.
Her son Reginald Jackson said she would be shocked that people thought her life