The University of Southern Mississippi alumni Ted Jackson is one of America’s best at telling a story with a camera. He’s got Pulitzer Prizes to prove it.
Jackson is a graduate of Southern Miss’ photojournalism program and a member of its Mass Communication and Journalism Hall of Fame. He worked as a photojournalist at The New Orleans Times-Picayune for more than three decades. He was a part of the team that received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the first Pulitzer in the paper’s 160 year history. His work was again recognized with a Pulitzer in 2006 for his coverage of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Jackson, in addition to winning journalism’s top honor for his photography, has also proven he’s not too shabby at employing the written word, either. His new book, ‘You Ought to Do a Story About Me’, released to rave reviews on Aug. 25.
‘You Ought to Do a Story About Me’ tells the story of Jackson’s friendship with Jackie Wallace, a New Orleans native who played with three different teams in the NFL.
The meeting wasn’t under the best of circumstances, however. Jackson met Wallace while he was taking photos for a story about homelessness in New Orleans. Wallace was one of a multitude of homeless addicts who lived under the city’s maze of bridges, a dim and dirty contrast to the life he lived as a football star.
Jackson took Wallace’s photo while he was sleeping half-naked on a rusty box spring. After Jackson nudged him awake, Wallace pointed to a copy of The Times-Picayune lying folded next to his shoulder and said, to Jackson’s amazement, “You ought to do a story about me. I’ve played in two Super Bowls.”
Over the next three decades, Jackson learned more about and became inspired by Wallace’s struggle against addiction and his refusal to give up on life, even after falling from the NFL elite and his mother’s unexpected death.
‘You Ought to Do a Story About Me’ captures the insights of Wallace’s attempt to navigate the tragic and often dangerous world of homelessness, drug addiction, recovery and relapse. Wallace also struggles with systemic racism economically and socially, which makes it too easy to settle into a ‘home’ on the streets.
For Jackson, it’s an opportunity to tell how his eyes opened to a world he already knew existed, but came to better understand through the eyes and words of his friend.
“One of the greatest gifts to a journalist is a subject who’s willing to tell you everything about himself, and Jackie has been willing to share everything,” said Jackson. “And that makes for a remarkable story. On the surface, it’s the simple story of a crack addict meeting a photographer – but, the endless quest for redemption, that’s the nugget.”
Jackson grew up in the Civil Rights era McComb, Mississippi. He said it took him a lot of years, hard knocks and serious assignments as a journalist to truly understand what social issues were. He spent decades meeting and talking to the right people to understand what it means to fight for change.
“Learning to listen to each other – if I can learn to listen to a man like Jackie, who grew up so differently than me, and he also learns from me [–] then we can all do that,” said Jackson. “So, this is a story about a relationship, a friendship, what we learn from each other.”
Jackson hopes his book will help readers gain some wisdom about these societal challenges and take the time to listen to the people affected by them.
“God brought us together that day under the bridge for a bigger purpose, and the bigger purpose was to share our lives with this book, about the bond we forged, and it has taken 30 years to bring that story to this point,” said Jackson. “We feel like this book is the greatest thing either one of us has ever done.”
Jackson will be available to sign copies of ‘You Ought to Do a Story About Me’ on Saturday, Nov. 14 from 3-5 p.m. at the Hattiesburg Cultural Center, located at 723 Main St. It is a part of a Hattiesburg Arts Council emerging artist event, a city-wide effort to show off local talent. After the book signing, JacksonHe will then give a presentation at the Odd Fellows Gallery, also in Downtown Hattiesburg, beginning at 6 p.m.