Men's Basketball
The Inspirational Story of Mannie Jackson

Mannie Jackson
Mannie Jackson

Feb. 29, 2008

Champaign, Ill. - Throughout his life Mannie Jackson has made great strides in breaking through the color barrier in both the sporting and business worlds. His admirable list of accomplishments includes being one of the first few African-Americans to play on his high school basketball team and being the first African-American starter and letterwinner, along with Govoner Vaughn, on the University of Illinois men's basketball team. Additionally, he was the first African-American to own a major sports and entertainment corporation, he held the title of Senior Vice President at a dominantly Caucasian Fortune 500 company, and he founded the Executive Leadership Council, a group for African-American corporate executives to network and consult with one another in regards to business and national policy. Jackson has also been named one of the "40 Most Powerful and Influential Black Corporate Executives" by Black Enterprise Magazine.

Although Jackson has been very successful throughout his basketball and professional career and contributed largely to the advancement of the African-American race, his humble beginnings gave no indication of his future success. Jackson was born to Emmett and Margaret Jackson on May 4, 1939. At the time of his birth his parents were living out of a boxcar that they shared with twelve extended family members in Illmo, Mo. Jackson spent the first three years of his life there while his father worked on the Cotton Belt Railroad. In 1941 the Jackson family moved to Edwardsville, Ill. where his father worked in an auto plant and his mother cleaned houses. Jackson grew up impoverished and learned the value of hard work from his parents, "Somehow, in my family, I learned about setting goals. Through racism and financial difficulties and all those things that come along as a kid, I had this dream that translated into setting goals. I have to give a lot of credit to my mom and dad ... and basketball." In 1952 he entered the newly integrated Edwardsville High School where he played on the basketball team with future NBA player Don Ohl and friend and future Illinois teammate Govoner Vaughn. Their team was very successful and took the school to its first and only state championship finals his senior year; Jackson was a first-team All-State selection.

Out of high school Jackson and his teammate Govoner Vaughn were extended full scholarships to play basketball at the University of Illinois, an offer they both accepted. Although Walt Moore had been the first African-American to play in a basketball game at the University of Illinois, Jackson and Vaughn were the first African-American starters and lettermen on the team. Jackson was a 6'2" guard known for his strong shooting and jumping abilities; former Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette writer Bill Lyon recalled, "He just floated through the air, tucked his legs up under him, and shot a jump shot that was unstoppable."

Since freshmen were ineligible to play, Jackson made his debut with the Fighting Illini during the 1957-1958 season. That season the Illini had an overall record of 11-11 with Jackson averaging 11.1 points per game. The next season the Illini faired slightly better with an overall record of 12-10. During that season the Illini faced the No. 1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Louisville, and unfortunately that game was the first in which Jackson and Vaughn experienced racial taunts from the fans. Despite the overwhelming racism, "I never saw them ever turn around and confront someone who had said something to them," said guard Lou Landt, "Someone had to pave the way, and those two guys did for all the guys who followed them." In his last season with the Illini, Jackson was named team captain and helped the Illini finish with a 16-7 overall record, good for third place in the Big Ten at 8-6. In his third-to-last game Jackson scored a career high 32 points and was 15-of-28 from the floor against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Jackson, who donned number 30, made his mark at Illinois by scoring 922 points, currently ranked No. 48 on the Top 50 Career Scorers list. Additionally he was named an All-American in 1960, made the All-Big Ten Team in both 1959 and 1960, and was a three-time varsity letterwinner. Jackson graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education.

After graduation Jackson played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1962-1964. In 1964 he moved to Detroit where he attended graduate school at the University of Detroit while working for General Motors. Then in 1968 Jackson went to work for Honeywell, Inc., a Minneapolis-based Fortune 500 company that manufactures controls for energy, environmental, and industrial systems. Jackson worked hard and quickly moved up the ranks within the company eventually becoming Senior Vice President.

In 1986 Jackson founded the Executive Leadership Council for African-American corporate executives. Through his own experiences at Honeywell, Jackson realized that networking and alliances are vital to one's success in the business world and he wanted to create a place for African-American business executives to interact with and consult with one another. Jackson served as the President of the Council from 1990-1992 and serves on its Board of Directors.

In 1991 the International Broadcasting Company, which had purchased the Harlem Globetrotters in 1986, filed for bankruptcy. The once prestigious Harlem Globetrotters basketball team was losing their fan base due to a lack of talented players and a failure to change up their routine. Jackson believed the Harlem Globetrotters still had the potential to be restored to their former fame with fresh talent, the addition of music, the reduction of the game length, and by setting up games with high profile teams. Jackson put together a group of investors and purchased the team for 6 million dollars. His purchase made him the first African-American to own a major sports and entertainment corporation; as a result he was selected as one of the nation's 40 Most Powerful and Influential Black Executives by Black Enterprise Magazine in 1993. Jackson's business venture paid off and he was able to restore glory to one of the nation's oldest sports institutions. Jackson remained Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1993-2007.

Jackson is currently 68 years old and is Chairman of Boxcar Holdings, LLC. In addition he serves on the Board of Directors of the Harlem Globetrotters and is a trustee of the University of Illinois Foundation. Among his many career achievements, he was recently recognized last year by the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., when the organization unveiled a new award named after him: Mannie Jackson Basketball's Human Spirit Award. The Hall of Fame gives the award annually to an individual who has found the game of basketball a contributing aspect to their personal growth and accomplishment, a place to develop an understanding of others, and an avenue that helped shape that individual's growth into a recognized visionary leader. Jackson Award recipients embrace the core values of the game: hard-work, striving to improve and a commitment to others. Beyond the game they reflect the values of Jackson's life-long mission to overcome obstacles; challenge the status quo, take responsibility for his or her actions while seeking the highest standard of excellence.

Mannie Jackson was a very successful basketball player at the University of Illinois and with the Harlem Globetrotters and his list of off the court accomplishments only continues to grow. He has truly made great strides in breaking through racial barriers in both the sporting and business communities and has paved the way for young African-Americans today.