Interview with Emmitt Ray Jackson

Dublin Core


Interview with Emmitt Ray Jackson


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)
Kennewick (Wash.)
School integration
Civil rights
Civil rights movements


Emmitt Jackson was born in Richland, Washington in 1950 and started working on the Hanford Site in 1977.

A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.




The Hanford Oral History Project operates under a sub-contract from Mission Support Alliance (MSA), who are the primary contractors for the US Department of Energy's curatorial services relating to the Hanford site. This oral history project became a part of the Hanford History Project in 2015, and continues to add to the US Department of Energy collection. This oral history collection was done in partnership with the National Park Service under Task Agreement P17AC01288.

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Robert Franklin


Emmitt Ray Jackson


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Emmitt—it’s Emmitt Jackson?

Emmitt Jackson: Correct. Emmitt Ray Jackson.

Franklin: Emmitt Ray Jackson, on March 23rd, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Emmitt about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities and working at the Hanford Site. And for the record, can you state and spell your full name?

Jackson: It’s Emmitt, E-M-M-I-T-T, Ray, R-A-Y, and then Jackson, J-A-C-K-S-O-N. Ray is important because my mom entrenched that into me. You know when you’re young and she says, never let anyone call you out of their name.

Franklin: What do you mean by that?

Jackson: Oh, you know, well, growing up, being one of the first black families here in the Tri-Cities and Richland, and growing up and you’re really into an all-white school or neighborhood and that type of thing, you know, there’s a lot of—in that time in the ‘50s, there’s a lot of people getting used to each other and understanding their ways. You know, you being different and as far as the color goes, you were sometimes a target, okay. We have people coming from all over the country here, so it wasn’t—you didn’t know what kind of individuals, their background or where they were from and what their culture was and how they were raised. So it was easy to single you out, if you will, or to say, oh, there’s one of those, whatever “those” is. So that’s always stood with me.

Franklin: Gotcha. Emmitt, where and when were you born?

Jackson: June 5th, 1950 in Kadlec Methodist Hospital. And you know if you’re born in the Kadlec Methodist Hospital, you’re a native, because it was the old Army hospital in Richland.

Franklin: Right. Yeah. So you were born here in Richland.

Jackson: Yes.

Franklin: Where did your parents move here from?

Jackson: From Louisiana. Shreveport, Baton Rouge. My grandparents and mom then came up from California up to here because they heard there was jobs here.

Franklin: And when did your family come to the area?

Jackson: Oh, man, they were in—probably, I don’t know exactly. My sister was born here, too, Joyce.

Franklin: Older or younger?

Jackson: Older.

Franklin: Okay.

Jackson: Joyce, so she was two years older than me. There’s ten of us in our family; we’re all like two years apart.

Franklin: Wow, that’s a big family.

Jackson: Yeah, it is. So ’47, ’48. I’m not quite sure about that.

Franklin: Your parents moved to Richland?

Jackson: They moved—well, actually, to north Richland, to the trailer courts.

Franklin: Okay. So your parents, from the moment they moved here, were connected to Hanford.

Jackson: Yes.

Franklin: And what did your—did both your parents work out there initially, or how--?

Jackson: See, my father—my step-father, that’s who I really know--my father worked out—he was in the Army. And at that time it was a military—you had the military here. So, when the military broke up—I’m sorry, when the trailer courts broke up, then we moved to Richland. 409 Robert in Richland. That was, oh, jeez, I wasn’t in grade school then, so that was somewhere like ’54, something like that. But my sister went to John Ball Grade School in north Richland. You know what’s interesting about all that, I don’t know if you know who Joe Essie is, but he’s a trainer out here. So we were talking one day about segregation and integration and all that. And he was talking about segregated communities, and I go, you know what, Joe? I actually lived in a segregated community. Because north Richland, you know, the trailer courts were divided. You had your black section and then you had your white section as well. So it was interesting. But I never knew the difference; I was young.

Franklin: What did your stepfather do out on Site? Why was he there?

Jackson: You know, the way I understand it from Vanis—Vanis told me this, is that when the trailer courts broke up, I think it was DuPont or GE here at the time. A lot of the Afro-Americans moved to Pasco, and a lot of them went to work at the railroad or went to work for the construction. My stepfather was one of the first ones to go to work for the contractor. So he went to work out at the Site for GE. He was a janitor. He worked 24/7.

Franklin: Yeah?

Jackson: Well, yes, you know, ten kids. In fact, he was a janitor here at—what was it?

Franklin: The Joint Center?

Jackson: The Joint Center for Graduate Studies. He was a janitor down at Joint Center for Graduate Studies on Lee Boulevard. We spent many a day in there washing and waxing, mopping them floors and that type of things. Our treat was great, because we used to go to Zip’s and we’d get hamburgers and fries and milkshakes. So then when they moved it out here, he was a janitor out here. He was the first janitor here. He worked at Lourde electric in the evenings. He did a lot of work on the side in the evenings as well.

Franklin: Right, working hard to support—for a big family.

Jackson: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: What do you know about your parents’ lives before they came to Hanford?

Jackson: Okay, my mother grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana and she—as much as she went to school there, she went to college there for a couple years, and then they moved up here. Then she started raising a family, yes. And she was a mother—that’s all I’ve known, she’s been a mother, yeah. Raised kids, she raised ten kids: six boys, four girls. She also babysitted. She raised a lot of other kids here as well. She did that for quite a long time. She spoiled each and every one of her kids. [LAUGHTER]

It’s interesting, because we think about now—because my daughter and how she was raised, you’re always trying to do better for them and make it easier for them and that type of thing. People talk about—I can remember growing up, and kids—because I played sports and stuff, and I can remember a lot of times the guys would say, god, I got to get home because we’re having steak for dinner! We didn’t know what steak was. It was like, neck bones and ham hocks and red beans and rice and greens and cornbread, and different things like that. So it was pretty interesting, the cultures and just the learning that went on while we were growing up here in this community.

Franklin: Yeah, yeah. How long did your stepfather work out at Hanford?

Jackson: Oh, man, jeez. Man, I’d have to look that up. He was out there for 30 years. Well, you think about it, let me see if I can go back. Let’s see. So I was in the service, so, ’50, ’72, came home started working ’77, ’78, ’79. He probably passed away about ’80. So I would think about 30 years. Yes.

Franklin: Did he ever talk about his work?

Jackson: No. We knew what he did. And in fact, he worked at the building that was up a ways here.

Franklin: In the 300 Area?

Jackson: The 300 Area, yeah, he worked in the 300 Area. In the evenings we would go with him, on weekends and stuff like that, to his other jobs and help him and that type of thing. So we knew what he did and we knew what the work was and that type of thing, yes.

When you say work—you know, the one thing I always wondered about though was—he was really good with his hands and carpenter. There wasn’t too many Afro-American craft people out here, right? So I always wondered, well, how come he never got the opportunity to go into one of those crafts? That’s always bugged me. Will always bugged me.

Franklin: Felt like maybe there had been a ceiling there or maybe an expectation of black workers at that time?

Jackson: Well, there’s definitely a ceiling, yes. Because when Hanford was being built, you had your black dorms and mess halls and everything was separated out there.

Franklin: Did he talk about working in any other areas, or was he mostly in the 300 Area?

Jackson: He was mostly in the 300 Area, yes.

Franklin: Okay. So you initially grew up in a segregated area of the Hanford—the north Richland trailer camp, which is different from the trailers in the construction camp.

Jackson: Correct.

Franklin: And then you moved into the town of Richland.

Jackson: Right.

Franklin: So moving into the town of Richland, that would’ve—Richland was a closed city, in that you had to be employed by GE or doing government work to live there, but was it a segregated area?

Jackson: No. We lived on 409 Robert which was right off of Thayer, across—it was a two-block street, and across from on the other side of Masonic Temple and Richland Baptist Church. And then Shirleys, the other black family that lived out by Denzo’s, and then the Wallaces lived below the hill, the Lewis and Clark area. And the Rockamores lived down there, and the Mitchells lived down there, too, as well. Let’s see, what is that? One, two—and then a little bit later, the Bakers came and they lived right behind us on Rossell Street. So we’re all scattered around.

Franklin: But you can, it seems like you can distinctly remember the black families in Richland.

Jackson: Oh, yes, of course. We—[LAUGHTER]—oh, yeah. There wasn’t many of us. It was like, you’re alone sometimes. So, yeah, we knew each other and we recognized each other whenever we saw each other and that type of thing.

Franklin: When so many other African Americans had moved to east Pasco, whether by design—whether by—because east Pasco was unofficially-slash-officially the black area of the Tri-Cities—

Jackson: Correct.

Franklin: So many families had moved there and had a very vibrant black community was there, did your family feel a pull to move there, or was there a reason why your parents didn’t move to Pasco and stayed in Richland?

Jackson: I don’t know why we moved to Richland, other than maybe it was close here. We bought that house there, 409 Robert. Our grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson, they moved up to east Pasco. In fact, they helped to build the Greater Faith Baptist Church there. Our grandfather was a deacon, and our grandmother was in the choir.

Franklin: Okay.

Jackson: We were always going back and forth from one city to the other.

Franklin: So you had a lot of interactions with folks in Pasco.

Jackson: Yes.

Franklin: Okay. That makes sense.

Jackson: You know what’s interesting about that, is that it was like—because most of—the Wallaces and the Browns—oh, I forgot the C.W. Browns, the Browns, they lived on Smith, over by Marcus Whitman. There was always that connection because of athletics and then that type of thing and the competition and all of that. So there was a little—there was always some competition that went on there between us.

Franklin: Yeah.

Jackson: Yes, and we played for the Bombers, for Richland. We’re quite proud of those connections. Because it always seemed like, going through school, there was someone older than us who would lead the way and chart our path. That type of thing. In fact, Fred Milton. Fred Milton lived out in West Richland, his family. I don’t know if you heard that name before?

Franklin: No, I haven’t.

Jackson: Well, Fred Milton was—he was a beast. He was very athletic, very powerful. Let’s see, Fred was two years older than me, yeah, two years older than me. Theartis was five years older than me and of course then you had C.W. and Norris Brown, they blazed the trail as well. They’re the oldest. I can remember this one time, this guy was picking on me in junior high. Fred found out and he talked to the guy, and the guy left me alone after that. But you always had that protection. You could go for help or support, which was very, very important.

Franklin: Yeah. Yeah, right.

Jackson: But Fred was—do you know? He was a heck of an athlete, nice guy, nice person. When he was, I believe when he was a senior, you know we had Arctic Circle here, you know where the—what’s the Greek place in Uptown Richland? What is it? It’s—oh, Fat Olives, the Italian place, I’m sorry, Fat Olives, yeah. So Fat Olives is there, used to be an Arctic Circle.

Franklin: Sorry, what’s an—is that like a—

[camera operator]: A drive-in.

Franklin: A drive-in, okay.

Jackson: Italian. It’s what?

[camera operator]: A burger.

Jackson: Oh, I’m sorry. A burger—Burger Ranch is a--you know, in Kennewick, is after them, they’re the same principle.

Franklin: Is that like a chain?

Jackson: Yeah, it was at that time. It was an Arctic Circle and they had burgers, and, man, that’s where, you know the fry sauce?

Franklin: Yeah.

Jackson: Yeah, that’s where the fry sauce generated from.

Franklin: Oh. ‘Kay. That’s funny, I grew up in Alaska; I feel like if any place I would have heard of that, it would have been there, but you never know. Okay, a drive-in.

[camera operator]: You’re from above the Arctic Circle.

Franklin: [LAUGHTER] It wasn’t quite above the Arctic Circle.

Jackson: And so I can remember one time, they went down to go to lunch there, and they wouldn’t serve him.

Franklin: Fred?

Jackson: They wouldn’t serve Fred. So the seniors there at school, they boycotted them, boycotted the Arctic Circle. And God, that was in the early—like in ’64.

Franklin: Like the entire senior—like, the school seniors? Not just the black seniors, but—

Jackson: Yeah, well, there wasn’t—there was only one or two—Bob. Bob was Fred’s brother. There wasn’t many of us around.

Franklin: Was that an effective—did they—?

Jackson: I don’t really know the outcome, but the fact that they did it, and they did it in Richland was very supportive. It said a lot about how we progress and how we come together as people.

Franklin: Right. Wow, that’s really something. How would you describe life in the community growing up in Richland?

Jackson: You know, what’s interesting is that—we’re getting ready to have our 50th anniversary, right? And so I can remember, we’d be down—or at Marcus Whitman, that’s the grade school that we went to. The Bakers and I would be down there and there was Theresa Kay, Levon and Levette, they were twins. So we’d be down there swinging or doing playing or something, and inadvertently, some kids would come by on their bikes and call us the magic word. And, man, it was amazing. They’d be on their bikes, and don’t you know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But of course, they have to go on the pavement, so golly, they could never outrun us. There’s always retribution to be paid. So growing up, you had that kind of stuff.

But then on the other hand, you had people that were just the opposite, and just treat you just like people, welcome you into your homes, played with you, your kids and family, that type of thing. I can remember one of our rules was, growing up, is that we could never go into another house. That was one of the rules, that you can never go into someone else’s house.

Franklin: Why was that?

Jackson: It was—I don’t know. I think it was protection. Because you never knew what to expect and that type of thing. And you didn’t want to be overbearing, if you will. Not knowing—it was virtually an unknown. My parents—everyone came from the South. That’s the way they were raised and their cultures and their attitude. That was one of our rules.

But growing up, man, I can talk about my life growing up. I can chart my brother—since I was the second oldest and we had, there’s ten of us, and you can see that the progression of the differences and the change in relationships within their friends and the other families and how people treated them or reacted to them as time went on. And it was a positive. It was really positive.

Franklin: Yeah, things trended upward?

Jackson: Oh, yes, oh, yeah. Definitely did. Growing up, you had your issues. I can remember one time in high school, there was this—in fact, we were juniors. There was the ASB president. You ran for ASB offices. So one of the guys there was running for office, and Mac Hall was the science hall and math hall. Man, that was taboo for me; I never went over there.

Franklin: Why?

Jackson: Science and math? Math and I did not compute, did not get along very well, right. I’m a history major, by the way. And you have slogans and you have pictures up and that type of thing. So they had—and in fact, the guy that was on the team, we played ball together. He was from Chief Jo; I was from Carmichael. Carmichael and Chief Jo came together at Col High. So we played ball, sophomores and juniors. At that time, when you’re a junior, you played varsity or you didn’t play. They didn’t have the different teams broke out, sophomore, JV and all that kind of thing. So he was running for office, so there was these slogans, and they had these black kids, stereotypes with big eyes and big lips eating watermelon, right? It was very derogatory.

Franklin: in the high school?

Jackson: In the high school, in Mac Hall. I never went there, I’d never go over to Mac Hall very—I think I went to typing, had a typing class there or something. No, I had a speech class there with Mr. Law. Anyway, so we went—one day Levon came, and Emmitt, have you seen this? The Harrises were there at that time too. I don’t know if you’ve talked to--run them down, the Harrises?

Franklin: I don’t believe so.

Jackson: Yeah. So, they came to me and said, Emmitt, have you seen this? I said, no, I haven't seen that. So we went up there and we saw it and I saw it. So then we went to the principal’s office, and they took made them take it down. I’ll never forget this. At that time, they told me, he says, Emmitt—these were the girls—and they said, Emmitt, they treat you different because you’re an athlete. I’ll never forget that. Because you are treated different because you’re an athlete. But particularly, within the community, if you’re playing basketball at Richland, you’re looked at as one of the leaders. Now, everybody, all the boys want to become a Richland basketball player, at that time. That’s what you went for.

Franklin: That’s kind of come out in several of our other oral histories, that there was an additional status in there for the athletes and maybe some of it trickled down to the non-athletes, but there was a distinction there that was made and led to a larger acceptance, it seems.

Jackson: Mm-hmm, it definitely was. If you’re an athlete, because you’ve got additional contribution for the whole, I guess, is why that is.

Franklin: What else did you do in your spare time?

Jackson: My spare time. My spare time was around ball. Because, you know, there’s ten kids in my family, and I recognized at an early age that, hey, if I’m going to get to go to college, it’s going to be on a scholarship. So I really—that was my effort.

I can remember in ninth grade, Mrs. Black, she was my history teacher at that time. I loved that lady. Washington State history. She made me work, man, but I remember I got an A and I studied for once in my life. I mean, I really cracked that book. She used to tell me, Emmitt, you know what? You know how many people make it into the NBA and go on and this and that? You got to study. You got to get your grades and that type of thing. So she made a difference in my life. Most of my time I was doing athletics, that type of thing, and went to church. We did a lot of fishing, a lot of riding bikes, a lot of listening to music and dancing amongst ourselves. Just trying to enjoy life and get through it. A lot of fishing.

Franklin: Yeah.

Jackson: Yeah, fishing was good.

Franklin: Do you remember any particular community events?

Jackson: I was involved—one of the things that I’m quite proud of is that Don Dicenzo and I started the Bomber Fallout. That was the radio station that we did. It kept going after we left and for a while, and I don’t know if they do that anymore. But that was quite fun. We reported on different events and different activities that happened at school on the radio, played music and that type of thing.

Franklin: Wow, that’s cool. You said you were living in Richland. What type of house were you living in?

Jackson: At first it was a three-bedroom prefab. And then we expanded it to another room, another big room.

Franklin: That’s still not a huge—

Jackson: We had bunk beds.

Franklin: Yeah, I would imagine so.

Jackson: Yes, we had bunk beds.

Franklin: Wow. Did you attend church?

Jackson: Yes.

Franklin: What church did you attend?

Jackson: The First Baptist Church, it was right around the corner on Thayer Drive. And also the Greater Faith Baptist Church.

Franklin: And that’s the one in Pasco.

Jackson: That’s the one in Pasco.

Franklin: What role did churches play in the respective communities?

Jackson: We went fishing on Sunday, but we couldn’t go fishing unless we went to church. So we always went to church, always in our white shirts and our Sunday best. Always did that. But then, when you went to church—if you ever went to church in a black church, it’s most of the day—then-days, it was most of the day. So we would go in the morning, and you’d eat at church, and you would go to evening church, evening services as well. So you were there most of the day. It was enjoyable, because there’s kids and you get to listen to the Word. The one thing about it growing up is that you found out that you had more than one mother. Because it didn’t matter if that was son or your daughter, you got reprimanded all the time. So you really learned to be respectful, you learned to treat people with kindness, help people. You learned the godly way of how to live.

Franklin: Yeah. Yeah, makes sense. You mentioned this a little bit, but I’m wondering if you could expand. Do you recall any family or community activities, events or traditions, including food, which you kind of talked about, that people brought from the places they migrated from?

Jackson: We had a lot of barbecue. But I think it was the food, like all portions of the pig, for example. I ate cow brains. I used to love pig feet. We ate neck bones, greens, ham hocks, black-eyed peas, cornbread. All those came from the South, but I’m sure other people that live there had some of that as well. But that’s what we ate. A lot of chicken, a lot of chicken. Lots of chicken, hamburger, that type of thing.

Franklin: The cheaper cuts that can feed a family of ten.

Jackson: Yes, you feed a family of ten, yes.

Franklin: I mean, that’s a lot of food to make.

Jackson: Right.

Franklin: Were there any other community activities or events that people--may be unique to where they had come from that they brought with them?

Jackson: When we were there, mostly it was, at that time, it was Afro-Americans and the Caucasian, white folks, and there wasn’t a mix. I can remember in second grade, the Guajardos, Robert Guajardo was there at Marcus Whitman. Then after that, they moved to Pasco. So there was a few different cultures of people there, but not a whole—not really a melting pot, not like it is today.

Franklin: Okay. Were there opportunities available here that were not available where your parents came from?

Jackson: Oh, yeah.

Franklin: Such as?

Jackson: Well, for example, one of the things that really changed me as far as professional was that my stepfather, when he worked out there at GE—it might have been—was it GE then? It was Battelle. They had C.J. Mitchell that started this youth opportunity program. So my father got me into that. So I went to work out there in the summer times when I was like 15. I was a serviceman out at PRTR, that’s Plutonium Recycle Test Reactor. So you got the charts of the atoms and that type of thing. So I’ve got—I started, golly, there’s more to this, there’s atoms and periodic charts. That’s something that you would get in school. But that was kind of foreign to me.

The first year when I went out there, I was—and there was a lot of us, a lot of folks from the Oranges, Little Baby and Big Baby, the Oranges from Pasco, Mozetta Orange and Carl Orange. Man, we just had a great time. Because every week, we’d always meet together and we’d talk about our experiences, so we really got to know one another. So the first year, I was a serviceman, I helped the servicemen out there. The people out there were really good to me. They adopted me—[LAUGHTER] We had a lot of fun out there.

But then I go, golly—the second year, I go out there, and I go, there’s more to it besides just being a serviceman. Golly, I want to work in an office, I want to be in a shirt and tie. So I went to—the second year, I got to work for Gary Petersen. I don’t know if you know him.

Franklin: I know Gary very well, actually.

Jackson: Yes. Him and--god, what was the other dude’s name? I can’t think of his name right now. But I worked in communications—no, I’m sorry. The second year I was out there, I was in Xerox machine. I was out there with Mr. Thomas. And the third year, then, I got to work with Gary. I got to write a story out there. You know, they publish in the Battelle Greenie and stuff. I wore a shirt and tie everyday to work. Man, I was on top of the world. I was cool, then. Plus, you get that check every week.

So Gary made a difference. He really—yeah. That part was a special moment, a special time for me in my life. Yeah, that made a difference. Kind of looked at, hey, it coupled the real world with the athletic world and you got to work towards your future, that type of thing.

So one of the good things about growing up in Richland no matter who you were is that, from the time you go to school, because this is the largest, per capita, the most PhDs in the country. So it’s a scientific community out here, so your aspirations—and you’re expected to go to college. So that was one of the driving forces of living here in this community.

Franklin: And you went on to college?

Jackson: I went on to college, I got a scholarship to Fort Silicon and played basketball, got drafted. I got drafted, went in the Army. That was interesting. Went in the Army for two years, got out of that, and then I finished up my degree here at CBC and then I went to Lewis and Clark State College on another scholarship. I finished my degree over there.

And what’s interesting, when you’re in the service, particularly in the Army, and I was over in Germany, you’re either with the brothers or you’re not with the brothers. Because there’s a big separation, at that time it was really segregated, the different classes of people, and so you tended to stay together. It was difficult for me, coming from Richland, because, hey, I grew up in a white society. I’m comfortable—I didn’t grow up everyday with brothers or sisters; it was always these white dudes. So when I got in the service, I was still—I had a difficult time making the transition, but I still—I went with whoever. But I was still part of that brotherhood.

So when I got out of the service, and I lived in Richland, I was getting ready to go to Central, and Fritz Schenkman got a teaching job at Lewis and Clark State College with Dick Hannon. So Fritz comes in and says, hey, Emmitt, do you want to go to school in Lewiston? Lewiston, Idaho? My first question was to him, well, how many black people in Lewiston? Well, there’s Tony, there’s Eric on the team. That’s it. Man, I’m just coming from a different environment, I go, I don’t know. And he says, oh, well, you come out there and go to school there and graduate and have a good time, enjoy yourself. So I said, okay, Fritz. So I went there and surely enough, man, it was a great time, got my degree, played ball, met a lot of good people, yes. And it’s because of my diverse background that that came out.

Franklin: Yeah. That’s really interesting. Yeah, I could imagine the transition to Lewiston would have been a little—might have been a little jarring or at least being like, Lewiston, man.

Jackson: Yes! Lewiston. Lewiston, Idaho of all places. But it’s not much different from here, it’s just smaller. You know, that culture.

Franklin: In what ways were opportunities here limited because of segregation or racism?

Jackson: What I started to say, I think, a little bit a while ago about our 50-year reunion, some people will say, well, golly, it must’ve been tough growing up here in Richland. Golly, you’re in a classroom, you’re the only one. And you’re doing this, you’re the only one out there. You kind of stick out. And you go through, there’s been some—you’re kind of ostracized or there’s name-calling or this or that. And you know what I tell them? I say, I had a great time. I mean, I learned a lot. You learn how to get along, you learn how to deal with different people, you learn how to maneuver within the system. So it wasn’t all that bad. You could take—I guess you had an option. You could be above it, or you could be in the middle, or you could be below it. You could feel like you’re ostracized and picked on and I’m the only one, this person did this to me, this person did that to me. But that’s not the way to live. You won’t get anywhere that way.

Franklin: That’s true. Could you describe any interactions you or your parents had with people from other parts of the Tri-Cities area?

Jackson: Interactions. Well what do you mean by—some unusual interactions? That type of thing?

Franklin: Yeah, anything that sticks out, memorable, positive, negative.

Jackson: You know, I really think for the most part, it was good. Our upbringing, like I said, sometimes you had those difficult situations, but that just made you stronger. I can remember, we walked a lot of places, the stores and the doctors, and that type of thing. Sometime people would go by and holler at us, and if I was with my mom, that really hurt me, because they’d drive by in a car, there was nothing I could do. And I certainly—I would liked to have picked up a rock and throw it, but you couldn’t do that, something like that. But there’s a lot of times and things that you’re just powerless, you’re helpless. And you just had to take the high road. You had to keep on going. Because if—you know, when I was little, I used to fight all the time. But gosh dang it, then after a while, you get tired of fighting. You can’t beat the world! So you find different ways to work those situations.

Franklin: You mentioned that negative depiction of blacks in the high school. I’m wondering, were there any other ways that segregation or racism affected your education?

Jackson: Was there any other ways? You know, man, when I was in school, I got in trouble a lot. Not bad trouble. Because I was like--I liked to have fun. You say different things in the classroom or something to get people—so I knew that they knew me. I remember Tom Lidup, he was the vice principal. But difficult—I think it really hinged upon the attitudes of the administration and the people. For example, Fran Rish, I don’t know if you’ve heard that name before?

Franklin: Yeah, the stadium.

Jackson: Pardon me?

Franklin: The stadium is named Fran Rish Stadium.

Jackson: Yes. Man, he was a heck of a man. He was a PE teacher, and he had a lot to do with kids and how their development and that type of thing. I can remember the first day when I went to Richland. We were standing up on the balcony, looking down at that floor, thinking about, golly, we could play there one day, down there. And Mr. Rish came up to me, and he started messing with me. He started jiving. He had—man, he was probably like 6’3”, probably 240, just thick man. He just started messing with me and stuff and had me start laughing. I’ll never forget this, I was leaning over the rail like this, and I went up like this and I hit him in his chin, and his chin went like that. But he was the type of person that didn’t matter who you were or what you were, he would help you. So those kind of people really helped shape the environment of the school and people’s attitudes and that type of thing.

When I was—I couldn’t swim. So we had to go to PE. So we went to PE, and the first day there at the big pool, we were all lined up at the pool and you had to swim across the pool. I happened to be at the deep end. So Mr. Rish says, guys, okay, go! So everybody jumped in. I jumped in, too,right,  and I couldn’t swim a lick. And he pulled me out. He goes, Emmitt, how come you jumped in? And I said, because you told me to. So you had that kind of a trust in people. That helped counter any of the negative part.

Franklin: Were there anyone else that influenced you as a child?

Jackson: Golly! Man. My family, my—I told you about Mrs. Black. Teachers, man, teachers—it’s different now, I believe, because the teachers then had more time. They had more flexibility. They didn’t have limits on what they could do to help. Doctors called, doctors came to your house then. Do doctors come to your house now? Teachers don’t go to your house. That type of thing. So Mrs. Biggs, Mrs. Biggs was our first grade teacher. She had, I think, had most of us in our family. She helped shape us. Mrs. Mitchell. I can remember Mrs. Lane, Mrs. Sagaster. Man, she was a short lady, red-headed lady, a spitfire, and everybody called her Mrs.--what did they call her? Sag Bag. But she was really authoritarian person. That’s the kind of person I really needed. So I used to help her like crazy, and I did well with her. And then Mr. Brian Feld. Just the teachers and coaches. The coaches that I grew up—Mr. Jurastich in high school. There’s Mr. Easton—I mean, Mr. Dudley. He was a track coach. But one that really helped, stands out, is Mr. Jenson, Max Jenson, he was the coach for cross country, him and Mr. Hepper, they were cross country and track coaches. They really helped shape me. And they helped so many people.

Franklin: What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities during your time there?

Jackson: Well, you know, I’m thinking—I was thinking about that, just thinking about some of the things that you went through. Like the signs. Not many people know about that, that it upset us and that type of thing.

Franklin: Do you remember any specific signs?

Jackson: Oh, yeah. The signs in—well, for example, you couldn’t go to Kennewick. You couldn’t go to Kennewick after night, after dark. You had to be out of Kennewick after dark. And I can remember some guys from Pasco being chased from Kennewick across the bridge because it was after dark. But they got that sign up there, you know, they had the sundown laws. They just, what is it, 15 years ago or something like that, they took them off the books in Kennewick.

Franklin: Was it really just that recent?

Jackson: Oh, it might have been longer than that. I would have to look that up, do the research. The sundown laws that they had. In fact, they had a plaque on the bridge. On the old bridge, it said that. The Martin Luther King—Martin Luther King, Junior. Golly. Civil rights. I can remember we had the riot here in Pasco.

Franklin: Yeah, could you tell me about that? Did you participate in that?

Jackson: No, I didn’t participate. Because I lived in Richland. I can remember when we were seniors and we played Pasco, we beat Pasco on Pasco floor, okay, in Pasco. So there was all sorts of stuff that went on.

Franklin: Like what?

Jackson: Oh, like people getting beat up, some cars were vandalized, and that type of thing.

Franklin: Was any of it racially motivated, or--?

Jackson: I don’t—people would have construed it as racial because of the differences in the makeup of the diversity of the schools. But it was the fact that we beat them. It was just—it was a way to—oh, well, you beat us, but you’re not going to beat—you’re not going to win the fight.

Franklin: Didn’t Pasco have a pretty sizable black—

Jackson: Oh, yeah, they had Ron Howard, Diggy Johnson were on the team then. And Gordie Guice, and Madison—yeah, yeah. They had—yeah.

Franklin: What kinds of actions were taken to address the civil rights issues that you just brought up?

Jackson: Well, you know, I told you about the issue with Fred Milton, and the response was that they boycotted Arctic Circle. Being in Richland, it wasn’t—because there was so few of us, it wasn’t that pronounced, if you will. So I would have to—look, I’m trying to think of what kind of things that occurred then. Other than the riot and the sundown laws and different areas. You know, you’d hear from time to time there was discrimination, actual discrimination, whether it was housing or you couldn’t go here, or something happened to someone or something like that. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of, what should I say? Movement. There wasn’t a whole lot of movement, other than the movement being progression—relationships getting better as time went on because of the movements outside of the area and different people coming into the community.

Franklin: Who were the important leaders of civil rights in the Tri-Cities area?

Jackson: It’d be the pastors. Yes. Then it would be the pastors. God, what’s his name? God, I can’t think of his name now. He went on to Washington, too. Oh, man, what is his name? He’s passed now. God, I can’t think of his name.

Franklin: Was he a pastor?

Jackson: No, he wasn’t a pastor; he was a civil rights guy. Oh, man.

Franklin: Maybe I’ll be able to find it.

Jackson: I’ll get it for you before I leave here.

Franklin: Okay, sounds good. What were some of the notable successes in civil rights in the Tri-Cities and at Hanford?

Jackson: Notable civil rights. Well, I would have to say, if you think about it, when I was little, I lived in a segregated trailer community. I can remember you couldn’t go past the certain railroad tracks, certain areas. Now you can go anywhere you want to and do what you want. It depends on you. There’s that ceiling—even when I went into the workforce here as a professional, there was a ceiling. There still exists today issues in the classroom, I believe. I can see it, I can feel it. I’ve talked to different kids.

My daughter experienced some issues in the classroom. She’s good in English. So she wrote this paper, it was a good paper. This teacher went out of her way to discredit her. This teacher even went to the point of saying that she went on a porno site and got the information off the porno site to put in her paper. So we were there, her mother and I, and the administrator, and I could not believe this. I could not believe the attitude that that person had. But my daughter was able—it made her stronger and she was able to overcome that kind of stuff.

But I guess what I’m saying, no matter how good it gets, you’re still going to have those situations, those issues. But as far as movement goes, let’s see. CBC did some things as far as, they had the bell, the Ring the Bell March. Dave Shaw was an individual that impacted the area, came from outside the area. He was here, he was union relations. And so that was—I’m trying to think of other events that happened. Gosh. It’d have to be the churches. Those were very positive. I can’t think of an event, when I was growing up, other than the ones we talked about, where there was actually a civil rights movement or that type of thing.

Franklin: Were you directly involved in any civil rights efforts?

Jackson: Directly involved in civil rights efforts. I’d say, I would always try to be positive, but I’d always try to lead. Because I knew my brothers and sisters are coming behind me. I’d figure, well, if I could do it, they could see that they could do it. That type of thing. Civil rights. I think, I would think just my attitude towards people. I coached around here for 25 years. Some of the best teams that we’ve had were the mixed teams, we had different kinds of people, kids there. In fact, I believe I might have been the first black coach here, thanks to Jim Castleberry. That’s interesting. Other things. And the outreach programs, I was in HR. At HR, started with Rockwell. I was in management development and training.

Franklin: When was this?

Jackson: This was in ’77.

Franklin: And was that your—because I wanted to actually move to talk about your work at Hanford. Was that your first job out at Hanford?

Jackson: In ’77, yeah. ’77, Rockwell hired me, yes. Mary Oxen hired me in ’77. And I always wanted to get in HR and Mary—so I worked in management, development and training with Don Sandburg, and the idea was when an opening came up in human resources, they would see if they could work me in. So it worked that way. I got in HR and, man, I did the hiring out there for skilled crafts for, I don’t know, six years, seven years, something like that. Did labor relations.

I can remember, we hired our first black painter out there. First black painter. And then we hired--at that time there was very few people of color out there. So, that was one of my objectives. I can remember, we had servicemen, so we had these interviews. Some of them, I found—Mr. Thompson—they adopted, they took me out there to show me the ropes, to show me the different skills and what was required and that type of thing, and I got to go around the country to do some recruiting. So here, like I was saying, we didn’t have very many different diversity of a workforce out here. You know, there’s always, how do you get there, right? So one of the techniques was, the managers, they always wanted you to give a firm handshake and look at them right in the eye. Particularly Hispanic culture, they aren’t going to do that, most of the time. So, hey, when you go out there, this is what you got to do. It made a difference. So we started getting a diverse workforce in some of those lower skills, and hoped, the idea that they could go up to another level.

Then after I did that, I became the college relations person. So college relations, and the comment was from the managers out there in the workfield was, we can’t get any Afro-Americans to come here. They won’t come here. Well, if you don’t go where they are, guess what, you aren’t going to get any. So we started recruiting all over the country. We started looking at diversity in college populations, and it made a big difference. We got—managers started to recognize that there was talent out there and there was people that would come here and go to work. I’m really proud of being able to do that.

We had a community ambassador and I did a lot of outreach programs, community ambassador programs. We brought—Xavier University had this math builders program. They’re the number one, if I remember correctly, the number one graduate of Afro-Americans in pharmacy. They contribute to these math builders, bio builders and chem builders program. What they are is that they are programs that students become entrenched in those skills. So then when they get in the actual classroom, they’re comfortable, they aren’t nervous and that type of thing. Then they can do well in them and go on. So the students that go through that program at Xavier, then they went on to Tulane, I believe, and they graduate in pharmacy. So they had the number one graduation rate of Afro-American pharmacy students because of that. So we were able to bring that to here. That model to here to the Tri-Cities. In fact, we did it at CBC. There’s a lot of students, a lot of kids today that will tell you that that made a difference in their life. There’s things like that that really made a difference. Once again, man, I know this stuff. Huh?

Franklin: So it’s 3:35.

Jackson: Oh, wow! We talked that long?

Franklin: Yes. [LAUGHTER] An hour and five minutes. When did you want to—when did you need to leave by? Because I can adjust the rest of my day.

Jackson: I should probably be leaving here pretty soon.

Franklin: Okay, like five, ten minutes?

Jackson: Okay, that’s cool, that’s cool.

Franklin: Okay, sounds good. I just have one, a couple, one more question about your work and then we’ll wrap up to the ending big questions. How would you describe your relationships with your coworkers and supervisors and management?

Jackson: You know, it was competition. It was competitive. There wasn’t many—the workforce out at Hanford hasn’t been that diverse. Maybe—one of the issues is, you look at the executives out there, you look at the management, there’s a sprinkle in here, a sprinkle in there, but there wasn’t anyone—there wasn’t a progression. I did a lot of management boards and that type of thing, so I understood the process and I understood how you get promoted and how it worked. It was difficult for a person of color to get promoted, because they were not—they were in the workforce, but they weren’t in the workforce, if you understand what I mean. It’s like, what churches do you go to, what organizations do you belong, where do you have dinner, that type of thing. All those played a big part. So, I was—the workforce, for me, it was competitive. Being an athlete and competitive nature, but that wasn’t the right way. But it never—we did good things, were able to accomplish things.

I can remember this one time, this one time. So we had college relations, right? So, we’d hire internships. I hired Betty Matier one summer. She’s a professor from Walla Walla, College of Walla Walla. We were going to do this symposium. The symposium consisted of different stations—it was at the Hanford House, so we had chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, different stations, different careers there. We invited the colleges to come in. All the colleges of Washington, most of them, came. A lot of their students came, and students from Oregon, Idaho. Man, there was this mass of kids there, young students. We fed them, we were able to feed them at that time, so we feed them and everything. I got the president to come and do the opening presentation.

But I can remember our VP calling me into his office, because—see, they kind of left me alone, they let me do my thing, so I just—so I was doing it. When he found out about it, he calls me into his office, and that man was hot. That man was hot! And he goes—he was this close, he got this close to me. He says, Emmitt! He goes, we don’t want a black eye on this organization! [LAUGHTER] Because then Westinghouse—this was Westinghouse at the time, they’re a very conservative company, they’ve never done anything like this before. And it was well-received, did well and everything else. But to his credit, he came back and he says, hey, Emmitt, that was good. He thanked me and appreciated. But it didn’t help me. It didn’t help me. And this was a big thing, this was a big time. Big time.

Franklin: A lot of effort.

Jackson: Yeah, it took a lot of effort, took a lot of coordination. We had a lot of good networks with the colleges and universities and the people. So it went well, it went well.

Franklin: What kinds of interactions did you have with your coworkers and supervisors outside of work?

Jackson: Not much. They’d have—you know, they’d have parties and stuff. I wouldn’t go to them. I wouldn’t go to parties. I just—no. Man. No, my friends, we played ball. I was still ballin then. So we played ball. That’s what we did. Got together and that type of thing. Not really—if they played ball or they were involved in athletics or coaching—my outside thing was, I think I started coaching, probably five years after that. Plus I was on the—see, I was on the board of trustees at CBC college for like a number of years, I was a chairman of the board, I was on the state board of education, so I did—I’ve done a lot of things outside of the work environment, too. Because that’s where my interest lies. So I was always doing something like that.

Franklin: Okay. We’ll go up to the big wrap-up questions, and this is one of my favorites here. What would you like future generations to know about working at Hanford and living in Richland during the Cold War?

Jackson: During the Cold War. What would I like to let them know? Future generations. Well, I think it is what you make it. Opportunity exists everywhere you go. You know wherever you’re at—one of the things you need to do is you need to relax and take your time. You need to network. You need to be observant. You need to understand—if you don’t understand, seek the answers. Look for open doors. You know, a door closes behind, there’s always another one that you can go through. I just think you’ve got to network and you’ve got to—one of the things is that, it doesn’t happen tomorrow. You’ve got to have stamina, you’ve got to have energy, you’ve got to have vision, you’ve got to have insight. And you’ve got to pray. You’ve got to be humble, you’ve got to be respectful, and you’ve got to be kind. And you’ve got to be able to lend a hand to somebody else, too, you know?

Franklin: Yeah. Is there anything else you’d like to mention related to migration, segregation and civil rights and how they’ve impacted your life at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?

Jackson: You know, it’s interesting, because the budget out here is—when the democrats are in, the budget does well. But you talk to—but this happens to be a what? Republican. And it’s amazing, to me, how they groan and moan, people groan and moan about the democrats, but when the democrats are in power, budgets are good, life is good. And then they moan and groan when the budgets get cut, and it’s usually on the republican side. That—I don’t understand that. I just don’t. One of the things we haven’t talked a lot about, Obama, mentioned that. I’m in a workforce, I think there’s only two of us out there, two Afro-Americans. But most of the folks, a lot of the folks out there are Trump supporters. So they had Obama’s picture up in the—you know, we have all the Presidents’ pictures up. So they had, they send you one. This is kind of off the record, by the way.

Franklin: Okay, do you want to say this off-camera?

Jackson: I’ll say this off-camera. Remind me to say that off-camera. But one of the things, you know, I think of the Kennedys and the Martin Luther King and the impacts that they made, it’s really impacted my life, and I don’t know where we would be without them today. Because the way, the differences in things that happened, they made a big difference, made a huge difference. But I’ve seen since Obama has been president that there’s been a backlash. We’re kind of retrenching, because my sense is that, before it was like, okay, the diverse, the people of color are going to be here, and we’re going to be there, and we’re always trying to catch up. But then when you get the President of the United States is a person of color, then the folks or whoever they are that think that they’re ahead, they really become sensitive and become challenged and they become nervous, because, oh, the most powerful country, the most powerful position in the world now is a person of color, all right? So now, uh-oh, what am I going to do? So I sense a backlash to that. I sense there’s some fear and some re-trenching going the other direction.

Franklin: Very much so. I think I would agree with you.

Jackson: And it bothers me. It troubles me. My daughter lives in Atlanta. [LAUGHTER] Oh, man. She lives in Atlanta, right. She’s born and raised here; lives in Atlanta. She had some issues in high school that weren’t very good.

Franklin: Here?

Jackson: Yeah, here in Richland. She was able to come over, part of it was athletics. But she was able to overcome that. So she got this opportunity, she works for Johnson & Johnson. So she lives there and she loves it. She loves it. It’s a chocolate city, as you know. She got this opportunity to go—they wanted her to go to Charlotte. So she went down there for a while, and they just—the people that she worked with really liked her. She’s a very likable person, smart and talented. So she went down there and they wanted her to—an opening came up and they wanted her to go down there. She didn’t want to go down there. The reason that it was so funny to me, comical, because, she goes, Dad, it’s just the opposite of Atlanta. I go, what do you mean? She said, well, here, I interact with black doctors and nurses and all these other kind of professions of black folks. Down there, what do they call, the guys that put you to sleep? The people down there are just the opposite. They’re white doctors and nurses.

And I’m going, where would you live? You went to school here! And I’m going, wow, the transition and the comfortability, it’s just fascinating to me. It really, really is. And she likes it down there, but it scares me, because of the attitudes. She goes to some places and I’m going, oh my gosh. So I send her all this stuff to arm yourself with, some mace, this and that. I taught—I’m always checking on her. I’m like, hey, if I don’t hear from her I get a little nervous. And she told me one time this truck went by with these two big old flags, rebel flags. And I go, oh my gosh, where are you at? You know? Hot dang. It just bugs me that she’s there and the attitudes and that type of thing. You never know.

Franklin: No, you never know. Well, Emmitt, thank you so much for coming and taking the time. I know you’re a very busy man, and I appreciate you taking the time to come and talk with us about growing up in Richland and working at Hanford.

Jackson: Well, thank you. Thanks for the opportunity.

Hanford Sites

General Electric
300 Area
Plutonium Recycle Test Reactor (PRTR)

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Years on Hanford Site



Jackson, Emmitt.JPG


“Interview with Emmitt Ray Jackson,” Hanford History Project, accessed March 30, 2020,