Chicago lesbian pioneer and civil-rights activist Jackie Anderson died after a short illness on Jan. 7, surrounded by family and friends. She was 75.
Anderson is survived by her daughter Tracey Anderson and her grandson Torrence "Doc" Gardner. The family requests privacy at this time.
Born in Chicago, Anderson graduated from Roosevelt University and retired from a long career as assistant professor of humanities and philosophy at Olive-Harvey College, where she started work in 1975. She twice served as department chairperson.
Her brilliant academic mind was among things her friends remembered most about Anderson. A steadfast feminist, she especially supported African American lesbian projects on Chicago's South Side.
Anderson helped launch the Lesbian Community Cancer Project clinic on Chicago's South Side; was the leader of Yahimba, which held citywide conferences on African American lesbians' needs; and supported the Institute of Lesbian Studies, the Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, and Gerber/Hart Library. She was a member of Stud 4 Life, was on the board of LesbBiGay Radio, and was a central figure in the beginnings of Affinity Community Services. She is a past board president of POW-WOW, an African-American lesbian community arts organization dedicated to supporting the arts and providing safe space for women from vulnerable communities.
A 1996 inductee into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, Anderson was a supporter not just of groups, but of individual women. She mentored and empowered many creative women.
She was published in journals including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.
Second-generation Chicagoan Jackie Anderson was born in 1942, into a middle-class African American family that she credits with starting her on her path of lifelong activism. "I felt strongly that there was an obligation to pay back the debt I owed to other Black folks who made me possible," she recalled in a 2006 interview for the book Out & Proud in Chicago.
As a young woman she joined the Young People's Socialist League and read leftist politics and philosophy. "I understood what racism was really about through reading Plato's Republic, so I studied philosophy because it made things make sense. My relationship to philosophy is to some degree radical. I feel that philosophy is relevant, it's useful as a way of doing analysis," she said.
Anderson's devotion to creative social empowerment has had a major impact on the Chicago lesbian community, and demonstrates how much one person can do to effect change. Her long list of volunteering in the gay and lesbian community includes playing pivotal roles in the founding of several important organizations.
In the 1980s, she founded Yahimba as a monthly newsletter, as a way of connecting people and events beyond the bar scene in Chicago, and her leadership of the Yahimba organization resulted in at least two citywide conferences specifically addressing needs of African American lesbians.
Hundreds of friends shared their memories of Anderson on social media, and with Windy City Times.
Anne Leighton wrote this about Anderson: "When I think of Jackie I think of sharing. I think of her generosity of spirit that led her to participate in many meaningful ways in many community projects. She means so much to so many. Jac shared. Argument and love. I think of sitting under the stars in Michigan, solving the worlds problems. Of the depths of her despair when she believed we could not. She shared her silences, her listening, her voice. She took pleasure in positioning her coffee so that I had easy access to the few sips my stomach allowed. She took pleasure in standing outside at an academic conference passing a last in a pack cigarette back and forth, admiring the women. Jackie was not an open book. She did not articulate her politics, thoughts, feelings to everyonemuch less force them on anyone. Jac shared. She helped create spaces for so many, particularly lesbians and Women of Color. She paid attention to people and told them that she loved them. Her silences, her listening, her voice. She was rarely afraid to launch a project, and even more rarely afraid to let it go when she judged the time had come. Her death is a shock to us all. But actually it is not surprising."
Andrea Densham said, "Jackie was a force of nature who worked by leaning forward with love in her heart and insisting on justice for all. A mentor and sage leader who worked harder than many with no need to for accolades or center stage. She taught many of us to work with passion, demanded justice and built a community of mutual support."
"Jackie did much to allow and encourage our spirits to sing ... and we sing and we sing and we sing," said Gladys Croom.
Kathy Munzer said, "Jackie's my definition of a true-blue friendloyal, kind, loving, always there to talk, listen, laugh, cry, share what matters most. She was an inspiration, a treasure, a lesbian champion and brilliant teacher, and no one will ever again make me laugh as hard as she did when we played cards."
"There are parents and those who parent," said CC Carter. "She was both with her daughter, Tracey and grandson Torrence. Her love for them was immeasurable. I am beyond forever blessed to have been shown a third of that love as well. The first time we met, she said, 'Girl you are going to be something else.' From that moment on she gave me no choice but to believe her and live up to her expectations. She saved me from being my worse self and lifted me up to a self I had no idea I could be. Because of her, I am ... #BecauseOfHerIam."
POW-WOW members also sent this: "We, the members, artists, cultural arts community of POW-WOW, Inc extend our heartfelt support, sympathy and love to Tracey and Doc (as Jackie referred to him) on the passing of their mother and grandmother. We are the house that Jackie built, through leadership development of our founder and board members, artist cultivation of our performers and committed and tireless service to our community audiences who studied every Wednesday and then weekly on Tuesdays for 10 years under Jackie's tutelage. Because of her, we are."
Sarah Hoagland recalled a conversation with Anderson at an Institute of Lesbian Studies meeting, asking her: "What do you do when everyone around you thinks in terms of ideas you know to be bullshit. Or when you are feeling insane because everyone around you acts as if nothing wrong? How do you counter the foreclosure of meaning?"
Anderson responded: "These are not quite my questions. I don't ever feel exactly that. I do feel there are things transparent to me that I don't understand why they aren't transparent to others. Not because I think I'm right, but because I can't engage when they don't get it.
"However, people I have serious discussions with, it's them I rely on. So if I feel like I'm going off in a direction, I depend on those folks to say 'No, Jackie.' … When Maria [Lugones] challenged my idea that we could move out of the concept of race, then I said, 'I'm wrong.' That doesn't make me feel crazy, it makes me happy there are such people.
"I struggle more with anger and rage at not having my thoughts respected. I fall back on a couple of things: my mother, who lived in a strong universe of ethics, who didn't trust white people, but believed everybody deserves respect. This is good to remember when I go off the deep end, when I'm really angry. It also helps cause I have relationships with people who are not people of color, who I loved. So it keeps me balanced. I don't have to make this intelligible. And then I often get very frustrated about things that go on in my own communitythere is no help coming. I feel helpless seeing all that. Times like that, what keeps me going day to day: I can think about the array of people in my life who I care about and who care about me. And I can feel good about the work that I do because it is respected in my own community. I did work on the North side, but to get resources to the south side. The fact that people in my own community feel I am someone they value, that has always fed me and kept me going. And the fact that I have been able to use what little privilege I have to help friends in ways that were respectfule.g., offering keys to my house. So in my deeper, darkest moments, that's what sustains me. And. I have to say, now that I've gotten older, I look at my daughter and grandsonI like the people they are. Makes me feel as if in some way the legacy of my family will continue. I feel, if I die, I'll be ok.
"My biggest struggle is not epistemological, it's affective rather than cognitive."
See a video interview with Anderson, from 2007, here: chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .
Memorial service details: Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place, Chicago, 2:30-4:30 p.m. The service will be first-come, first-serve due to limited capacity of seating. There will be a post-event at Jeffrey Pub until 8 p.m. that day.
This obituary includes excerpts from an essay by Jorjet Harper in the book Out & Proud in Chicago.