Legacy of Evanston Fourth of July devotee lives on in annual family reunion


Matt Lieberman/Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute

Walter Jackson, son of Alfred Jackson, watches the Evanston Fourth of July parade on Central Street with other members of the family. Alfred Jackson, who died in 2012 at age 91, was a trustee of the city’s Fourth of July Association.

Matt Lieberman, Reporter

When the late Alfred Jackson began gathering his family to celebrate the Fourth of July in Evanston, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States. Sixty years later, the tradition continues with more than 20 members of Jackson’s family setting up white lawn chairs on Central Street to watch the city’s annual parade.

Members of the Jackson family who celebrated the holiday Saturday hail from California to Massachusetts and range from over 60 years old to a baby on the way. After the parade kicked off, a float carrying a bell inscribed with Jackson’s name on it drove past, eliciting cheers from attendees.

Jackson, who died at 91 in 2012, served as a celebration manager and trustee of the Evanston Fourth of July Association, his son said. Jackson lived his whole life just off of the Central Street parade route in a brick house displaying an American flag spanning three stories.

“He did Fourth of July things year-round — he lived Fourth of July,” said his son Robert Jackson, who lives in California.

Since Alfred Jackson’s tenure as a trustee of the Fourth of July Association, the Jackson family has been instrumental in other local Independence Day festivities such as the tennis tournament, potato sack races and the egg toss, his son David Jackson said. In recent years, the Jacksons have helped organize these competitions at Evanston’s Lincolnwood Elementary School.

A lieutenant in World War II, Alfred had five children who are now in their 50s and 60s. To his children, the Fourth of July was the “big holiday” of the year, his daughter Dorothy Jackson said.

“It was ingrained,” Robert Jackson said. “None of us would remember a time we didn’t have parties.

Two years ago, the cover of the holiday festivities program for Evanston’s 150th anniversary depicted white lawn chairs, one displaying a placard reading, “saved for the Jackson family,” David Jackson said.

“That was subtle but really cool,” he said. “(Evanston residents) probably know the name.”

While some of Alfred Jackson’s family members are long-time attendees, others are new to the traditions. Grant Mills of Lexington, Kentucky, recently married Alfred Jackson’s granddaughter. The couple, who has a baby on the way, plans to name their son Jackson Mills, he said.

“We’re carrying on the family name,” Mills said. “He was an amazing man — really patriotic — who loved his country and loved Evanston. He was always serving others.”

Although this year was Mills’ first family reunion with the Jacksons on the Fourth, he said he hopes to be sitting in a white lawn chair on Central Street in 2016 and the year after.

“It’s neat knowing the tradition,” Mills said. “I don’t want to miss it.”

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