East St. Louis Community Mourns Death Of Longtime Educator, Politician Eddie Lee Jackson
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
A longtime educator, community leader and the “Dean of Politics” in East St. Louis has died. He had been fighting the novel coronavirus, according to those who knew him.
Eddie Lee Jackson Sr. served in the Illinois House of Representatives for eight years after retiring from a lengthy career as a science teacher and administrator in East St. Louis School District 189. He sat on the East St. Louis City Council for 20 years and is the father of Emeka Jackson-Hicks, the city’s former mayor.
Jackson, 71, died early Friday morning.
Jackson was a life-long resident of East St. Louis, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in city planning from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
After two decades as a city alderman and a term as party committee chairman, he assumed the seat in the Illinois House in January 2009 following the death of Wyvetter Younge. It’s a seat Jackson held through three more two-year terms until 2017, serving as a member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.
“He loved East St. Louis,” said his daughter, Emeka Jackson-Hicks.
She described her father as “a protector, provider, and the cornerstone for his family’s foundation.” Jackson was quiet man who taught his family to lead by example. “He taught us to always have a plan of action and then to get it done,” Jackson-Hicks said.
Frank Smith, chairman of the East St. Louis Democratic Central Committee, said he was “stunned ... knocked off my feet,” when he learned of Jackson’s death Friday morning.
“Eddie was a good, kind-hearted guy. He would give you the shirt off his back,” Smith said. “He was the dean of politics. He was a numbers man; he didn’t let nothing pass him.
“He loved East St. Louis, and whatever he could do to make it better, he did it.”
Smith said Jackson stayed close to home in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic that, in Illinois, has killed more than 15,000 people.
“He said he didn’t want to catch anything,” Smith said. “This one really hurts.”
Smith, former East St. Louis mayor and township supervisor Alvin Parks Jr., and former state Sen. James Clayborne Jr. said Jackson was suffering from the effects of the virus.
“I knew he had been sick due to coronavirus but heard he was getting better,” Parks said. “I know how serious this illness is, and it’s still ravaging this community and families.
“It’s really really sad when your community loses one of its key leaders for the last 45 years.”
Clayborne worked closely with Jackson during their time representing the metro-east in the Illinois legislature.
“Eddie worked to try to create transformative solutions. His is a major loss,” Clayborne said. “Eddie made a life-long commitment to public service as an educator and a politician. As a member of the East St. Louis City Council, he implemented policy. As state representative he helped bring additional funding to District 189 and new programs as well.
“Most people don’t know that about eight years ago, the school district was basically bankrupt. Eddie was able to convince the state to provide additional money to support and keep the district open. He generated $27 million over that period to keep the district open and functioning.
“I hope the community will remember his work and keep his legacy alive by having the same commitment to East St. Louis that he had.”
Jackson, a teacher before turning to politics
Parks said citizens recognize Jackson as a politician but may have forgotten about his work as a teacher and principal in District 189.
“He brought many of our children up by way of education,” Parks said. “Eddie was not always the person who was most direct with hands-on leadership, but he always worked behind the scenes helping to better the community, making connections, and helping to get things done.”
Jackson-Hicks said her father was dedicated to his work and to the children of East St. Louis. He was an early riser who arrived at school before the staff, making sure it was clean and “everything was done and ready to go. That’s called taking care of business,” she said.
“My dad was a gifted educator and principal, “ Jackson-Hicks said. “Lots of students looked up to him. He was one of the best principals District 189 has had. He treated those children like they were his.”
Parks recalled that Jackson held a picnic for the city’s precinct committeeman at the old Monroe School located at 16th and Martin Luther King Drive. It was a simple gesture aimed at helping build the community and encourage involvement, Parks said.
“Lots of time people forget the little things that make a community a community. He put on this picnic annually and helped others to organize theirs,” he said.
Current East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III called Jackson “a mentor.”
“He was one of my father’s best friends,” he said. “I am deeply saddened for the family and other friends of the Jacksons. Eddie is the kind of person who can’t be replaced. He’s one of those people you put on the shelf and pay homage to. His public service was exemplary. He worked tirelessly to enhance education for children in East St. Louis.
“It’s just a sad day in the city of East St. Louis.”
Vicky Kimmel, who operated a construction school called Tomorrow’s Builders Youthbuild in East St. Louis, said Jackson was a mentor to many. She also said he was instrumental in the development of Parsons Place Apartments in East St. Louis.
“Eddie Jackson was the kind of man who could show up and be anybody’s father or grandfather,” said Kimmel, currently the deputy director of Teens Against Killing Everywhere. “He had a great sense of humor, was gentle and kind. He would leave you feeling better than he found you every time.”
Illinois politicians reflect on ‘Sad day’
State Rep. LaToya Greenwood said Jackson will be greatly missed.
“He is one of the founders of our community. He was actively involved in education and forming our political world here in East St. Louis,” she said. “I send my deepest condolences to his family.”
State Sen. Chris Belt called Jackson “a consummate professional.”
“He was a public servant, educator, principal, city council member and state representative,” Belt said. “He was an overall great guy, good fraternity brother. He was a wealth of knowledge.
“This is a sad day for his colleagues, friends and family.”
Jackson is survived by his wife, Pearlie Jackson, a son Eddie Lee Jackson Jr. and his daughter, the former mayor.
Funeral arrangements will be announced by Nash Funeral Home in East St. Louis.
Carolyn Smith is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.