They say that actor Samuel L. Jackson is a bad mother… you know the rest! For years, Jackson has been known for his bold presence in his roles, and for being a rebel in films. It appears as though he walks more than he talks (or acts) as a story on his past is coming back to the forefront on the weekend where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered and honored for his birthday, and his works.
Back in 1966, Morehouse College, alma mater to leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Julian Bond, would receive Jackson as a student. Growing up with a strict grandmother, he already felt all of the upsets due to injustices. “I had anger in me,” the Do The Right Thing actor said in a 2005 interview with Parade. He added, “But, I had a dream of my own. I was determined to get out and make my family proud.” It was there that would birth his passion for civil rights activism, especially following the taking of King’s life in 1968. Jackson said that he found out during the campus’s movie night showing John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.
Jackson tells The Hollywood Reporter of a time where he received word to hop on a plane and join Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in demonstration with garbage workers, being able to pay respects while the body was held at sister HBCU Spelman College, as well as serving as an usher at Dr. King’s funeral. Dr. King’s life and actions were motivation and inspiration for the actor. “I was angry about [King’s passing] , but I wasn’t shocked by it,” Jackson said to Parade. “I knew that change was going to take something different — not sit-ins, not peaceful coexistence.”
In 1969, the actor and a group of activists were responsible for holding members of the college’s board of trustees hostage. Jackson said in an interview with THR that they felt that the “administration was rooted in some old-school things that the majority of us students didn’t believe. You would be a great doctor, a great lawyer, maybe a great scientist. I was skeptical of that. I didn’t want to be just another Negro in the, you know, advancement of America card. We had no connection to the people that we lived around. I was skeptical of that. We didn’t even have a black studies class. There was no student involvement on the board. Those were the things we had to change.”
After petitioning to meet the college board, he says they were met with opposition, which led them to take extreme action. “Somebody said, ‘Well, let’s lock the door and keep them in there,’ because we had read about the lock-ins on other campuses,” he explained. “They had these chains on the walkways to keep us off the grass, and we used those. Our understanding was that, once we locked them in, we were in violation of a whole bunch of laws.”
One of the members of the board happened to be Martin Luther King Sr. “Dr. King’s father, who was on the board, had some chest pains,” he continued. “We didn’t want to unlock the door, so we just put him on a ladder, put him out the window, and sent him down. The whole thing lasted a day and a half. We negotiated that they wouldn’t kick us out of school. And then when everybody was gone for the year, they kicked us out of school.”
However, in 1971 the actor was able to return to the school where he enrolled this time as a drama major. “I decided that theater would now be my politics. It could engage people and affect the way they think. It might even change some minds.”