Dorchester loses a leading light in Shirley Jackson

By Dave Ryan
Posted 12/27/22

VIENNA — Dorchester County last week lost a community leader, with the death of Shirley Jackson. She was active in efforts to promote and recognize African-American culture and history, and was …

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Dorchester loses a leading light in Shirley Jackson


VIENNA — Dorchester County last week lost a community leader, with the death of Shirley Jackson. She was active in efforts to promote and recognize African-American culture and history, and was a member of the Senior Citizens’ Hall of Fame.

Information from said that in the 1930s, Ms. Jackson lived with her parents and six siblings in what was then called “Indian Town” near Vienna. The family lived on Frase Farm, where her father was a sharecropper and her mother was a domestic worker.

There was no power, running water or indoor plumbing in the area’s few homes. A wood stove where the family cooked their meals provided the home’s only heat.

Ms. Jackson’s mother Elsie Mae enlisted her children to help grow, harvest and can the tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and cantaloupes they raised. The African-American community carried names still prevalent in Dorchester: Pinder, Jackson, Robinson, Jones and Davis. 

Ms. Jackson was a direct descendant of Charles Jackson, born in the Vienna area in 1814 as an enslaved person. There are several records that document his activities in the Indian Town area near the Steele family, today’s Handsell property, although proof of who “owned” Charles is yet unknown. It appears he was freed by about 1840, when he married and started a family with Rachel Hill.

Over the years, the family remained in Indian Town, until around 1945, when they moved to the nearby community of Reid’s Grove. 

By the 1980s, the 12 homes and dozens more outbuildings that marked Indian Town were gone. The only one that remained was a long-abandoned, ivy-covered brick structure known as the Webb House.

But memories of the old days remained, and Ms. Jackson was instrumental in keeping them alive, with her portrayals of individuals of that time, and her work as an advisor with the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance (NHPA).

That work, and her involvement with many other organizations, was recognized in her induction to the Hall of Fame in February of 2021.

“Ms. Jackson’s untiring volunteerism to many local organizations has given her the affectionate label of the ‘energizer bunny,’” a statement from Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance Trustee Midge Ingersoll said at the time. “During and after her 30-year employment in nursing services at the Eastern Shore Hospital Center, Shirley has been active in the Waugh Chapel, a Trustee of the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance (Handsell), Harriet Tubman Museum, Friends of the Library, NAACP, Coastal Hospice and the Dorchester County Historical Society among many others.”

Though she did her work quietly, it did not go unnoticed. One letter of nomination to the Hall of Fame for Ms. Jackson said, “It has been my privilege to know Shirley Jackson, my honor to work with her and I will always be grateful for all that I have learned from her.”

Praise for Ms. Jackson’s work came from many sources following the announcement.

“Congratulations to Ms. Shirley Jackson, the recipient of the GERI Maryland Outstanding Volunteer Award,” a statement from Waugh Chapel United Methodist Church said. “Ms. Shirley is a valued member at Waugh Chapel serving in numerous capacities. We all know what a kind and giving person she is and we appreciate all she does in the community and at Waugh Chapel.”

“The GERI award is the geriatric ‘Nobel Prize’ for extraordinary community service,” the Dorchester Retired Educators Association said. “Shirley Jackson has and continues to devote her life to caring and volunteering to improve the lives of others. Shirley is an Honorary Member of the Dorchester Retired Educators Association.”

While she served as president of the NHPA, Ms. Jackson posted a message celebrating Juneteenth that might serve as a reminder of her vision. She wrote, "If what you see is all you see, then you do not see all that is to be seen."

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