University Liggett School students connect with the school’s first African American graduate as part of Black History Month studies

Fifty-three years ago a tall, lanky teenager from Detroit made history by being the first African American student to attend and then later graduate from Grosse Pointe University School (GPUS).

On Monday, Feb. 4, Upper School students at University Liggett School had a chance to hear from this groundbreaking alumnus – who is now a pastor living and working in Alabama – as part of the school’s Black History Month studies.

The Rev. Meredith Bernard Jackson ’69 GPUS didn’t intend to be a groundbreaker when he decided to attend Grosse Pointe University School in 1966.

He recalled that “there was a movement at the time to diversify schools across the nation and then Head of School Hugh Riddleburger was a big proponent of this new philosophy. As a eighth-grade student in Detroit, I took a few national high school entrance exams and I did very well. As a result, I had many high school options, including at many Eastern boarding schools” he explained to the students. “But, I finally landed on attending GPUS because it was close to home and it was co-ed, which was very important to me as a 14-year-old boy,” he chuckled.

During Monday’s question and answer session University Liggett School students were curious about the reception he received from fellow students, the struggles he faced while on campus and what daily life was like for him as the only African American at the school.

Jackson said he realized it was going to be hard to leave his friends behind at his old school and that it might prove difficult to fit in at GPUS. But Jackson explained that “fairly quickly, the students did accept me as a peer, and in fact, I was elected president of the sophomore class, which he admitted was a ‘token vote.’”

Jackson still lives by the advice of one of his teachers. “Mr. Kerr told me that I could ‘take being president of the class as an opportunity or just continue to think of it as a token gesture – it all depends on how you choose to use it.’ I choose to take it as an opportunity.”

Jackson, a National Merit Scholar while at GPUS, was chosen by his peers to be the senior class speaker at their commencement ceremony in 1969. Headmaster Riddleburger described Jackson at the time as “an elegant guy, a crackerjack athlete, a most responsible and socially conscious scholar. If all boys everywhere were this fine, the world would be a nicer place in which to live.”

He went on to attend the University of Michigan, and was initially accepted there while still a junior at GPUS. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree from Troy State University and completed a Master of Business Administration from Golden Gate University. In addition, Jackson earned a Diploma of Vocation and a Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary.

Jackson competed a distinguished 20-year career in the United States Air Force in 1995, retiring as a major. While in the Air Force, Jackson earned several military awards and decorations including; Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster and the Joint Service Achievement Medal.

Always service oriented, Meredith has made it a priority in his adult life to give back to others in any way he can. “We have to put the welfare of others above ourselves. We’re here to be of service to others. By switching to GPUS, I helped to serve others.”

He currently serves as pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in Camden, AL, and is the owner of JayPBSig Creations, a consulting/photography company. He remains a leader among his peers, serving as the class of 1969 Class Representative and helping to plan its 50th reunion festivities in May of this year.

GPUS is a University Liggett School predecessor school. The two schools merged to become University Liggett School in 1970.
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Liggett

University Liggett School, a top Metro Detroit private, independent school, is located at 1045 Cook Road Grosse Pointe Woods, MI 48236 313-884-4444