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Ambrose Jackson Jr. was behind Omaha's first black-owned architectural firm

Ambrose Jackson Jr. was behind Omaha's first black-owned architectural firm

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Ambrose Jackson Jr., who founded Omaha’s first black-owned architectural firm and was honored for his volunteerism, has died at 89.

“He and his wife have been pillars of the community at large and certainly pillars of the African-American community,” said State Sen. Tanya Cook, a longtime family friend. “He was very courtly and dignified.”

The family of Jackson and his educator wife, Sammye Jackson, who survives him, were honored for their community service in 1996 as part of the Family Service Salute to Families.

Ambrose Jackson was the founder and board chairman of the Community Bank of Nebraska. He served on the Boy Scouts Mid-America Council, the City of Omaha Human Relations Advisory Committee, the Judicial Nominating Commission and the Nebraska Humanities Council. He also served as president of the North Omaha Kiwanis Club.

His wife, a longtime teacher and principal and former president of the teachers union, was one of four honored as a World-Herald Midlander of the Year in 1977 when the paper saluted the Year of the Educator.

Born in St. Joseph, Missouri, Ambrose Jackson graduated from high school in 1944 and served in the Army until 1946, partly on Okinawa.

At his mother’s urging, he entered the University of Kansas under the G.I. Bill and was the only black student in the architecture school. He left when “money ran out,” he once said, and worked at a packinghouse and on a railroad.

“What I admired about him,” said son Ambrose “Bill” Jackson, “is that he was a determined individual. He didn’t have a direct path to the success he enjoyed.”

The elder Jackson returned to KU, graduated in 1958 and worked for an Omaha architectural firm. In his basement in 1965, he started his own company, which became known as Ambrose Jackson Associates Inc.

His son said two other black architects practiced in Omaha at the time, but none had established his own firm, though Golden Zenon did so later. The family believes Jackson Associates was also the first black-owned architectural firm in Nebraska.

Asked in a 1978 World-Herald interview why other black architects didn’t go into business for themselves, Jackson said half-jokingly: “Because they’ve got good sense. It takes a lot of nerve. It takes a special breed to leave a good, secure salary they get working for someone else and get into the deep water on their own like I did.”

At that time, his firm had designed the just-completed, 60-apartment St. James Manor at 60th Street and Military Avenue. He said it was the first federal insured apartment developed in the country designed by a black-owned firm.

Among other buildings, Jackson and his firm designed the Omaha Housing Authority headquarters, the Blue Lion Center, the Fort Street Church of Christ, the Ames Station U.S. Post Office, the Harry A Koch Trap and Skeet Range and the Martin Luther King Center. National Park Service visitor centers in South Carolina and Indiana also were designed by Jackson and his firm.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by daughter Avil D. Jackson; all three live in Omaha. A funeral service for Ambrose Jackson was conducted Friday at Zion Baptist Church.

Said son Bill: “Omaha has always been a place that’s close to his heart.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, michael.kelly@owh.com

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