Many do know Samuel L. Jackson as the acclaimed Hollywood actor and film producer but before he made it big on screen, Jackson was a civil rights activist who fought against the injustices of racism.
Getting deeply involved in the civil rights movement while a student at the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Jackson did usher at the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but then went on to hold King’s father hostage a year after the funeral. Here’s why.
Born on December 21, 1948, in Washington D.C., Jackson was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by his grandmother before his mother later joined them. Growing up amid racism, he became an angry Black man.
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“I had anger in me,” Jackson told Parade in 2005. “It came from growing up suppressed in a segregated society. All those childhood years of ‘whites only’ places and kids passing you on the bus, yelling, ‘Nigger!’ There was nothing I could do about it then.”
But getting into college in the 1960s, he realized he could now do something about the situation. While at Morehouse College in 1966 during the height of the civil rights movement, his introduction to psychedelic drugs got him involved in activism.
In two years when King, Jr. was assassinated and his body was brought to Atlanta to lie in state at Spelman College, adjacent to Morehouse, Jackson went to the funeral as one of the ushers and also flew to Memphis to join an equal rights protest march.
But a year after the funeral, Jackson got into trouble in Morehouse after he and a group of student activists held the college’s board of trustees hostage. They demanded that changes be made in the curriculum of the school, adding that they wanted more Black people on the governing board of the institution, Watch The Yard reported. And among the board members who were held hostage was King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr.
Jackson later explained that he and the group of students did petition the Morehouse board in 1969 about their concerns but, “The Black people who were around them said, ‘No way, you can’t come in here. You can’t talk to them.’ Somebody said, well, let’s lock the door and keep them in there,’ because we had read about the lock-ins on other campuses.”
King’s father, alongside the rest of the university board members, were held hostage for two days by Jackson and his group. By the second day, King’s father started having some chest pains. “We didn’t want to unlock the door,” Jackson recounted. “So we just put him on a ladder, put him out the window, and sent him down.”
At the end of the day, Morehouse agreed to do something about their concerns but Jackson and his group were later expelled for their actions. Jackson then joined some influential Black leaders including Stokely Carmichael who were members of the Black Power movement. “We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle,” Jackson told Parade. “All of a sudden, I felt I had a voice. I was somebody. I could make a difference.
“But then one day,” he recalled, “my mom showed up and put me on a plane to L.A. She said, ‘Do not come back to Atlanta.’ The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn’t get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I’d be dead within a year. She freaked out.”
In LA, Jackson worked in social services for two years and then returned to Morehouse to pursue acting. A drama major, he decided that theater would now be his politics. Graduating from Morehouse College in 1972, Jackson began his acting career on stage before later starring in Pulp Fiction, considered one of the greatest films of all time. He then appeared in big-budget films like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and its sequels. He was also in the many installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Having one of the highest combined film grosses of any actor, Celebrity Net Worth estimates him to be worth $250 million. Last month, the legendary actor grabbed headlines with his new docuseries, Enslaved, which aims to cover the international impacts of the transatlantic slave trade.