“Every man dies- Not every man really lives” – William Ross Wallace
Among the many professors teaching at Sam Houston State University, not many have had the first hand experience of being enlisted in the army and risen to the rank of captain in four years, nor have they been able to witness and photograph events of the Civil Rights movement, travel to many countries, have a photograph run in almost every United Press newspaper and also achieve a Master of Fine Arts and a Doctorate degree. Dr. Emmette Jackson, however, has been able to accomplish all of this and more.
Dr. Jackson got his start in the field of photography in high school and photographed his first wedding when he was only 15-years old.
While in college at Florida State University, Jackson worked for United Press International where he was able to cover the State Legislature and the Civil Rights movement.
“[In the early 60s] skin color really determined a lot of priorities in life,” Jackson said. “I see the Civil Rights movement as a very important step towards today — having the very first African-American president.”
Jackson was present at many Civil Rights protests in and around Florida, usually with camera in-hand. At one point, Jackson remarked on as the scariest moment of his life, members of the Klu Klux Klan threatened to slit his throat for being present at a protest.
“Fortunately, I am a pretty fast talker and I talked my way out of it,” he said.
While studying at FSU, Jackson worked at the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, where he did a lot of sports photography.
In 1963, at the age of 21, Jackson received a commission into the army and was sent to Korea. He was able to photograph the Peace Conference at Pyongyang, which Jackson said was the highlight of his military career.
“I was with Armed Forces Radio and Television, so that gave me license to do a lot of these things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do,” he said.
Jackson also sponsored an English speaking Korean club through the United States Information Agency.
“As a result, I got invited into some Korean homes and this was unheard of for an American soldier,” he said.
After Korea, Jackson was sent to Europe at age 24, where he had an interesting experience escorting a troop of boy scouts to Berlin.
“They had a duty train at that time, during the Cold War, and the American train went to the Russian border. It was then switched over and they put a Russian engine and Russian guards on the train,” Jackson said. “The Russian engine took us to Berlin at which point they put back on an American engine.”
This was part of the Status of Forces Agreement, which Jackson got to see in action first hand.
While in Europe, Jackson toured Rome and Venice and took numerous photographs. One of Jackson’s duties was Custodian of Classified Documents, which forbade him to travel in any of the communist-loyal countries. Jackson also had the chance to visit a concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.
“It was a horrible experience,” he said. “They had some pretty graphic exhibits of the things that happened. A photograph could not do justice to what was there.”
At age 26, Jackson decided to leave the military with the rank of captain under his belt.
“It basically boiled down to either get out of the army or go to Vietnam, so that was a good time to get out,” Jackson said.
In 1967 he returned to the United States and hit the books. Jackson went to Brooks Institute of Photography in California, where he studied photography for two more years. Then he continued on to Ohio University, where he received his Master’s of Fine Arts degree. Jackson taught for a few years after that at Daytona Beach Community College before coming to SHSU. But he did not stay at SHSU long before he went to A&M and received his Doctorate degree in 1992.
While teaching at Daytona Beach Community College, Jackson had a friend who worked for United Press International and was short handed and needed a photographer to take shots at Cape Kennedy where they were having moon shoots. At that time, they were photographing Apollo 11, one of the last of the moon shots. Jackson photographed King Hussein of Jordan, who was present at the moon shoot, and the picture “was run in just about every newspaper in the country that had United Press,” Jackson said.
Throughout his life, Jackson got to witness the transformation in photography from silver, film, chemicals and darkrooms to digital.
“It used to be when you went out on an assignment you took a picture, you had it on film and you didn’t know until you got to the darkroom, developed the film and processed it whether you had anything or not,” he said.
Jackson has been at SHSU for 34 years, sharing his many experiences with the numerous students that he has taught. Throughout his lifetime, Jackson has visited approximately seven countries and has had many unforgettable experiences, and all the while having a camera-in-hand, fulfilling his passion.