Eugene Jackson, longtime African American community activist, minority business advocate, educator, small businessman and local cattle rancher passed away earlier this year. He was 82.
Jackson left a long and lasting legacy in the Northeast Portland African American community.
In the 1970’s Eugene Jackson served as Executive Director of the Northwest Minority Contractors Association (formerly Albina Contractors Association), headquartered in Northeast Portland. Eugene negotiated millions of dollars of contracts for members of his organization and directed one of the most successful construction training programs in the area.
He designed and instituted the first minority business set aside program at the state and national level. He frequently worked with the late Senator Mark Hatfield, Representative Parren Mitchell, and other Senators and Members of Congress, and state, local, and federal officials on matters affecting the construction industry and minority contractors throughout the Northwest. Eugene was invited on several occasions to special White House briefings on the economy and matters related to minority contractors. He covered a wide spectrum from representing Oregon at the White House Conference on Small Business, as well as, the National Small Farms Conference.
Eugene Jackson was born and reared in Tampa, Fla; he was one of ten siblings.
In 1950, before entering the Navy, Eugene tried his hand at professional boxing. While in the Navy he served on a landing ship tank during the Korean War—he was awarded several battle stars.
Following the war, he settled in San Diego and attended college under the GI Bill. He became a skilled welder and metallurgist.
During the 1960’s, Eugene became the first Black president of his local Ironworkers Union, and later as shipbuilding foreman, he was responsible for leading a large crew that built several ships at National Steel in San Diego.
Eugene moved to Oregon in 1968, where his first job was working as a welder for Gundersons. In the early 70’s, he was employed by PortlandCommunity College as a welding and metallurgy instructor.
It was in the mid-1970’s that Eugene embarked on a lifelong dedication to community activism and leadership. He was committed to economic and job development, skill training, and homeownership as a means to help break the cycle of poverty, devastation, and despair throughout low-income communities. He believed in the old adage that “If I give you a fish, you eat for a day; if I teach you to fish, you eat for a lifetime!”
Eugene was drafted by his neighbors to run as an Independent candidate for Clackamas County Commissioner and was the first person to successfully get on the ballot in that County as an Independent.
Eugene was part owner of a Retort Pouch Food Processing Company located in Auburn, Washington. This Black-owned manufacturing facility was the first of its kind in the Northwest. The cutting edge food processing technology incorporated by this company is still being utilized today, particularly by the U.S. Military in K-Rations.
During the early 1990’s Eugene founded Oregon Hinoki Products, a small company that manufactured beautifully handcrafted, traditional Japanese-style soaking tubs out of white cedar, known throughout Asia as Hinoki. His company was profiled on television and in newspapers and national magazines, including the New York Times, Interior Design, Sunset, and House & Garden. One of his custom tubs is in a castle in Ireland owned by the Guinness (Beer) family.
One such example was in the 1990’s when Eugene Jackson served as a Founding Board Member of Irvington Covenant Community Development Corporation (ICCDC) in Northeast Portland. Eugene displayed his expertise and experience in business and the construction industry, specializing in panelized building systems technology. (ICCDC was a nonprofit, faith-based organization that built affordable homes for low-income families, trained ex-offenders in home construction skills, provided mentors from the church, and guaranteed jobs in construction or apprenticeship programs to all graduates). Under his leadership, this model successfully built quality, affordable housing units and had a training success rate of over 80% and a recidivism rate of less than 10%.
Over his lifetime, Mr. Jackson served on numerous local, state, and national boards and commissions, including recently serving on national committees emphasizing the use of economic and community development to help address the dire problems in Haiti and in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. He volunteered to draft a comprehensive business plan to provide affordable housing in New Orleans.
Eugene always had a love for education and a special interest in helping young people excel. He established several scholarship funds in area churches, helping many young people pursue their dream of a college education.
Eugene enjoyed hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and riding his ATV around his ranch. On several occasions, he and his wife and sons rode their horses in the Portland Rose Festival Parade. One of the highlights of his sportsman life was a hunting and fishing trip in Alaska. Eugene’s special joy was spending time on the ranch with family and close friends serving up his famous barbeque with the “secret” sauce.
Eugene suffered for several years with emphysema. He fought a hard battle but finally succumbed to this devastating disease. His love of family and his undying commitment to the African American community will be greatly missed.
A Celebration of Life Memorial Service was held for Eugene Jackson in late January. In lieu of flowers, the family had requested that donations be made to one of Eugene’s scholarship funds. Those who still may be interested in honoring Eugene can send donations to: Eugene Jackson Scholarship Fund, RehobothWorldHealingCenterChurch, 3835 NE Hancock Street, Suite GL-A, Portland, OR97212.