There is quite a feeling among young people that it is easier to be a Christian after one has grown old; that the evils of a worldly life are less alluring after two score and ten. To remove this notion from the minds of many young people, we must bring forward as Christian leaders young men and young women of their own age and class who daily exemplify the meaning and beauty of the Christian religion. (1911, Special Work of Young People in the Church, Fourth Ecumenical Methodist Conference, Toronto, Canada)
Bishop Frederick Douglas Jordan’s commitment to political advocacy, social justice and civil rights, and service to the community were undoubtedly influenced by his father, Dock Jackson Jordan. Dock, the son of a former slave who was an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia one year after the Civil War ended. Dock thrived in spite of his impoverished beginnings and the racist segregated environment of rural south Georgia. Although he could only attend school 3 months of the school year, he managed to graduate from high school, earn a B.S. and L.L.B (law degree) from Allen University in South Carolina in 1892, pass the South Carolina bar that same year, and later pass the Georgia bar in 1904. After graduation, he returned to Cuthbert and was nominated by the majority Black Republican Party to run for the Georgia state legislature. He was not elected and did not further pursue political interests or a legal career. Instead Dock embarked on a stellar career as a college academic, administrator, AME church lay leader, and public intellectual.
Dock’s Jordan influential and provocative essays and articles were published in newspapers and journals, such as the AME Church Review, the Voice of the Negro, the Atlanta Constitution, the Atlanta Journal, The Freeman of Indianapolis, and the Baltimore Afro-American.
In 1901, he co-authored with W.E.B. Dubois and others an appeal to the white Georgia legislators to defeat a bill that would close one-half to two-thirds of black public schools in the state.1 Using data to bolster their argument about the disparities between black and white schools (a strategy used later in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case), the authors stated that only 15% of public school property was owned by black schools, although black children represented 48% of the school population. DuBois and Jordan found that for every dollar Georgia spent on schools, white children got eighty cents and black children twenty cents. They concluded, “Black people of this state sacrifice more to the public weal by the taxes they pay on fourteen million dollars of hard-earned property than the whites, whose accumulated wealth is due, at least in part, to the unrequited toil of our fathers.” Perhaps his most noted editorial was a letter he wrote to President Woodrow Wilson about the treatment of Blacks after the 1917 East St. Louis race riots.1 In what was called one of the worst race riot in US history, 3000 whites attacked Blacks because they thought newly arrived black migrants from the South were strike breakers. The NAACP reported that the rioters killed over 100 blacks and burned 6,000 homes. In a letter published in many black newspapers3, Dock wrote a scathing piece in which he accused President Wilson of (sic) ignoring the plight of Blacks and showing “more disregard of the feelings and rights of Negro Americans since James Buchanan.” Jordan blamed Wilson for the riots and stated, “You have uttered many fine sentiments about the rights of humanity and the glories of democracy, but by your acts you have told your fellow countrymen that you do not regard the Negro as human . . . .” Jordan clearly blamed Wilson for the riots and concluded that white Americans had taken their cue from Wilson about how African Americans should be treated.
His courageous and persuasive remarks resonated with Blacks across the country, and the governor of North Carolina, fearing increased black anger, sent Jordan’s letter to the US Attorney’s office and the FBI. In addition, he tried unsuccessfully to get Jordan fired from his academic position at North Carolina A&T.
Significant events and timeline in life of Dock Jordan
Although his name is not widely known, Dock Jackson Jordan’s accomplishments are well documented in the historical literature. He was acknowledged as “one of the best writers and speakers of the race4,”selected as one hundred of America’s greatest Negroes, and recognized in Who’s Who of the Colored Race5. In spite of the difficult circumstances he faced, his legacy of continues to inspire the Jordan family. Dock Jordan is buried ini Beechwood Cemetery in Durham.
Note: Some of the material for this article was summarized from an unpublished essay by Jennifer Jordan of Howard University, “ A Race Man for His Season: Dock Jackson Jordan.”
1Dubois, W.E.B. February 2, 1901, An Appeal For The Colored Schools In The State Of Georgia. Colored American Magazine, 2(4), p. 262.
2Haley, J. (1987). Charles N. Hunter and Race Relations in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
3See Raleigh Independent July 14, 1917; Norfolk New Journal and Guide, July 7, 1917
4Culp. D.W. (1902). Twentieth Century Negro Literature Twentieth Century Negro Literature or a Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating to the American by One Hundred of America's Greatest Negroes. Naperville, IL: J.L. Nichols $ Co.
5Mather, F.L. (1915). Who’s Who in the Colored Race. Chicago: Memento Press.