Ed Jackson, who preserved and made Georgia history, dies at 79

In 2001, Georgia Democratic Governor Roy Barnes pushed through the legislature a new state flag that eliminated the Confederate battle flag, which had been a significant part of the banner since 1956.

In 2003, some Georgia Republicans tried to return to that divisive design, but they didn’t have the votes. Then-state Senator George Hooks (D-Americus) worked tirelessly for the adoption of yet another flag — minus the battle flag — one researched and designed by Ed Jackson of the University of Georgia.

“We needed the new flag to be historically correct,” Hooks said. “Ed did all the history work and patterned it after the original Georgia flag. I may have been the muscle getting it passed, but Ed was the brain. He worked tirelessly, and it passed.”

Meticulous in his research, generous with his knowledge, infectious with his love of Georgia and its history, Edwin Leon Jackson would have been state historian, if there had been such an office, said Todd Groce, CEO and President of the Georgia Historical Society. “He was the person you called whenever you had a question about Georgia, and he always had or found the answer for you. I don’t think anyone knew more about Georgia than Ed.”

Born in Kingsport, Tennessee, and reared in Texas, Ed Jackson came to UGA in the late 1960s to work on a Ph.D. in political science after having earned a B.A. and M.A. at the University of Mississippi. He spent the remainder of his life in Athens where he died on January 10 at age 79 from injuries sustained in a fall.

The demands of single fatherhood derailed his dissertation plans. Instead, he joined the staff of the Institute of Government in 1970 and stayed for 40 years. He worked in the government education division in fields such as curriculum development, and geographic, teacher and legislative education. In 1972, he helped write Georgia’s new state constitution. In 1973, Jackson helped design then-U.S. Senator Sam Nunn’s congressional intern program — for Georgia college and university students — and served as its administrative secretary until 1987.

In the late 1970s, he worked with the Dahlonega Jaycees to restore and regild the dome on the Georgia Capitol with gold. He helped raise money and awareness. In November of 1979, Jackson and his family were among those traveling by wagon train from Dahlonega to Atlanta, to deliver the gold. Later, Jackson developed a Capitol exhibit that contained Georgia-mined gold dust and nuggets.

He conducted workshops for school districts across the state, helping social studies, history and geography teachers to become better, and he created a newsletter, “Teaching Georgia Government,” to disseminate up-to-date information about law, government, history and geography. Jackson was a highly sought-after speaker and a prolific author, writing books on topics that included, among others, Georgia’s State Capitol, citizenship education, a handbook for Georgia legislators, Georgia state agencies, and was the first of four authors of “The Georgia Studies Book,” a textbook for eighth graders.

He was an authority on state founder James Oglethorpe. To celebrate Georgia’s 250th birthday, he formed The Friends of Oglethorpe and took groups of devotees from across the state to England in 1985. “We went to Cranham Hall, where Oglethorpe had lived, and toured around Essex,” said Annette Jackson, a social studies teacher he married in 1975. “I think Ed wanted us to see everything in England that Oglethorpe had ever seen.”

Jackson was among the first UGA employees to embrace the Internet, recognizing its potential as an educational tool. He created 15 websites on Georgia history, geography and government. When the online New Georgia Encyclopedia appeared, he was a section editor. Jackson was known for his photographic and videography skills, and for happily sharing photos and creating slide presentations, without any thought of credit, said his longtime colleague Mary Stakes.

“I’ve known of instances when Ed made special trips at unusual hours to capture the right moment for a photograph, for someone else’s work,” Stakes said.

Retirement didn’t slow Jackson. Accompanying him on some of his road trips was Charley Pou, a retired UGA librarian. After giving a seminar on President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Ed spotted an old Coca-Cola machine, “where the drinks were only a dime, and he had to get one of every bottle in there,” Pou said.

Jackson’s collection of Georgia memorabilia — books, pamphlets, photographs, films, campaign signs and buttons, posters, maps, paintings, drawings, newspapers, stamps, antique currency, postcards, paleolithic arrowheads, coins, music albums and CDs — filled his home office, a spare bedroom and the family dining room. When it began encroaching on the kitchen, Annette convinced her husband to do something. Early last year, he loaded the items into 50 boxes and donated some to the UGA’s Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies. He gave the bulk of his collection to the Georgia Historical Society, where it will be the Edwin Jackson Collection.

“I’ll tell you this, of my 32 years in the legislature, it’s the flag I’m most proud of, and for that we can thank Ed,” said George Hooks. “Everything Ed Jackson did made the state of Georgia a better place.”

Jackson was the son of the late Richard and Lorene Jackson. In addition to his wife Annette, he is survived by his brother Royce, his daughters Banks Scothorn, Jennifer Redmond and Stephenie Jackson and seven grandchildren. A memorial is planned for March 4 at 2 p.m. at Lord and Stephens Funeral Home, West, in Watkinsville.

An earlier version of this story misnamed an element of the 1956 state flag. The element was the Confederate battle flag.

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