Ellen Jackson

Ellen Jackson

Ellen Jackson

1935–2005

Ellen Swepson Jackson was an American educator and activist best known for founding Operation Exodus in 1965.  Jackson got involved because her five children attended an overcrowded school of predominantly Black students who were not encouraged to prepare for college. Jackson’s experience on how to work the system started as a parent coordinator and student advocate in a local civil rights organization, followed by a stint as the Social Services Supervisor for the local Head Start program. After seeing the differences in student-to-teacher ratios of the various schools, she worked on fixing the discrepancy between schools in Black and white districts by forming a parents’ council to try to get the Boston school committee to make changes. The parents’ council created Operation Exodus, sending students from overcrowded schools to less crowded ones. They were legally allowed to do this due to the Massachusetts General Council passing the Racial Imbalance Act that same year. At its height in 1969, Operation Exodus bussed 1,100 students to under-utilized white schools.   

Jackson’s actions laid the groundwork for the filing of the 1972 NAACP lawsuit that led to the desegregation of Boston’s public schools. In addition to her work with Operation Exodus, Jackson also received her Master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 1971.