Jack Jackman: The Newspaperman

Jack Jackman

Jack Jackman Colin Michael Simmons

City Pages' People Issue celebrates people making Minnesota a better place.

Running the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper—the state’s oldest black-owned business—wasn’t Wallace “Jack” Jackman’s first rodeo.

Born in Des Moines, Jackman moved to Minneapolis with his mother at age 15. He spent his teenage years “hoopin’ and hollering, [causing his] share of hell” while attending Central High School, then worked as a cook, truck driver, welder, and bouncer.

“I’d like to have been a brain surgeon,” the endearingly gruff 73-year-old wisecracks.

Eventually, the family business called. Wallace’s mother, Launa, married Twin Cities civil rights pioneer Cecil Newman in 1962. In 1934, Newman—a trusted adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey—launched the papers that merged into the Spokesman-Recorder, and he oversaw them until his death in 1976.

Jackman assisted his mother for years as she captained the papers. Along with his sister, Norma Jean Williams, he’d later hold the role of co-publisher for two decades. Jackman purchased the Spokesman-Recorder’s first computer (“all it would do is replace white out”) and its first suite of software (“more holes in it than Swiss cheese”). That initial $10,000 investment wasn’t a money-maker, Jackman says, though it proved extremely educational.

“He really transformed the building and the paper, and brought us into the 21st century,” says Tracey Williams-Dillard, the Spokesman-Recorder’s current publisher, of her “grumpy, loving” uncle. “It changed the whole way we do business.”

Though the Spokesman-Recorder caters to a largely black readership, Jackman emphasized diversity in his hires, if only “to show the world it could be done.” Making a buck was never easy, he says, but the historic Minneapolis newsroom at 3744 Fourth Ave. S. fills an important role, covering topics and issues often overlooked by larger news outlets.

“Newspapers was hard work, man,” he says. “We’ve struggled all them years, [but] only the strong survive—the black community needed the information.”

In the ’90s, Jackman created Minnesota Blackpages, a profitable listing service for minority businesses he ran for more than a decade. But the phonebook business, just like the newspaper one, would prove financially incompatible with the internet.

In 2011, Jackman joined a seven-member delegation of local politicians and firefighters that traveled to Kenya for two weeks. The crew of Minnesotans donated a firetruck, shared expertise, and bonded with the residents of Eldoret, Minneapolis’ sister city. “We have to overcome and make that journey,” Jackman told the Spokesman-Recorder at the time, imploring fellow African Americans make the unforgettable journey to Africa.

Asked why he loves the Twin Cities, Jackman deadpans: “You ever been to Des Moines?” This is where he enjoyed 52 years of marriage to his late wife, Lynda. It’s where they raised four children, 25 grandchildren, and lots of dogs. It’s where he still sees problems (“racism is everywhere, and it’s ugly”), and where he practices the solution.

“I treat everybody with respect,” Jackman says. “And that’s how I want to be treated.” 

Click here to read other profiles from this year's City Pages People Issue.