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Polly Jackson likes to say she’s “Black by nature, educated by choice and a politician by accident.”
A retired, 32-year veteran educator, Jackson’s name has become virtually synonymous with community services in Lancaster over the course of her 75 years through her work with the school system, County Council and numerous boards and organizations.
Jackson said she’s always valued education. And her education, which includes an undergraduate degree from Winston-Salem State University and master’s degrees from the University of Hartford and Winthrop University, took her far.
“I had a good teacher, Mrs. Marjorie McMurray, and she kind of turned my head,” Jackson said. “I guess I thought I’d emulate her.
“I guess all I ever wanted to be was a teacher,” she said. “It’s my heart.”
Pursuing her dream, Jackson started her career as a first-grade teacher in Florence and Spartanburg counties, before moving back to Lancaster, where she taught and counseled students at most every elementary school in town at one time or another.
After retirement in 1989, Jackson didn’t rest on her achievements.
In 1991, the year County Council changed from “at large” to district representation, Jackson became the county’s first black council member. It was a position she held for three terms between 1991 and 2002, representing District 2. She also became the first black appointed as council chair.
“The community decided I didn’t have much to do since I retired and they kind of drafted me,” Jackson said, with a pleasantly wry smile. “I couldn’t say no.”
Over the years, Jackson continued to give of herself, serving on a myriad of boards and foundations and volunteering her time in other ways. She now serves on the Springs Memorial Hospital Board, the board of the J. Marion Sims Foundation and the Educational Foundation Board of the University of South Carolina at Lancaster, among others.
In 2009, the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce voted Jackson its Volunteer of the Year.
Jackson said she believes she got her desire to help the community from her mother, Ora Lee, whom she said was always helping neighbors in need.
“I have to give back because this community was good to me,” Jackson said. “There’s always something to do and people who need help.”
– Reece Murphy