A WWII vet spent decades improving Jackson neighborhoods, civic engagement

Tray Ling

JACKSON, MI – Charles Montgomery believed an involved community is a powerful community, and he spent his life helping Jacksonians believe that, too. For decades, Montgomery did everything he could to promote change. He started neighborhood block clubs. He called for equality between Black and white residents. He promoted the […]

JACKSON, MI – Charles Montgomery believed an involved community is a powerful community, and he spent his life helping Jacksonians believe that, too.

For decades, Montgomery did everything he could to promote change. He started neighborhood block clubs. He called for equality between Black and white residents. He promoted the lives of World War II and Korean War veterans like him. He always wanted to get more registered voters.

And he wrote.

His daughter Jeneice Carter remembers him writing all the time, articulating his positions on neighborhood beautification projects and elevating the minority community in Jackson. He wrote so much that even years after his death in 2001, Carter is still skimming through his stacks of papers and newspaper clippings.

“He was just that kind of a person, he wanted to help. That was his main focus,” Carter said. “Not just Black people – just to help people. We had no qualms on color, even though color was a big issue back then. One of the things that he always wanted (for) all of us to be better and have better. He did a lot of things in order to achieve that.”

Montgomery is one of many notable Black Jacksonians being highlighted in a Black History Month social media campaign from the city of Jackson and Ella Sharp Museum.

Artifacts being revealed as part of Black History Month celebration in Jackson

“Coming together is beginning, staying together is progress and working together is success,” Montgomery told a Jackson Citizen Patriot reporter in the 1960s.

Montgomery was born in 1918 in Waco, Texas. He served in the U.S. Air Force in Italy during World War II and in the Korean War, achieving the rank of sergeant, Carter said.

Montgomery and his wife, Doris, his high school sweetheart, came to Jackson in 1956 when he became supervisor in the psychiatric clinic at Southern Michigan Prison, a job he filled until his retirement in 1984.

Carter and her two siblings, Mary Ann and Charles Jr., grew up on Plymouth Street on the city’s east side. She wasn’t aware of the depth of her father’s activism for many years, she said, but did remember how much he would promote civic engagement.

“With the organizations he was involved in, whatever it was, it was always about providing information for the community to register to vote,” Carter said. “Constantly. Buttons were made, T-shirts were made, rallies were made, just so the information would be available for everyone – not a specific group, color, creed, religion – everyone to have the opportunity to vote. He was very big on that.”

Montgomery’s mobilization efforts were often centered around neighborhood improvement.

He led the United Civic Association of Jackson in the late 1950s and formed the Association of Neighborhood Block Clubs in the 1960s and the Southside Self-Help Neighborhood Improvement Association in the 1980s.

The goals of these groups were to champion Black voices in civic involvement and promote community and civic activism for everyone. Community work, however, required everyone’s input, he said, so in 1987 he helped residents turn a defunct Victorian home on Maple Avenue into a community youth center.

“If we are to succeed in our objective we must have faith in ourselves and confidence in our ability to do that which is before us. Through group thinking at the block level, we can take a positive approach to help make us an important and powerful part to play in this neighborhood improvement project,” he wrote in an association of neighborhood block clubs newsletter during that time.

“We have the potentiality of contributing much in a way which will ensure the best and most purposeful meaning of a good neighbor, law abiding citizens and an asset to the beautification of our city,”

The Montgomery family moved to the Essex Heights neighborhood on Jackson’s southwest side in the late 1960s as one of the first Black residents on Woodfield Drive, Carter said.

“The neighbors had the audacity to have a meeting to see if we were fit, capable to live here,” Carter said. “That just really sparked my hairs right on my head. It was like, how dare they try to tell us we could not live here.

“My dad was able to break a lot of the stereotype out in this area. Today, I am amazed because I’ve been over there to see the house and I see how many minorities are living there now.”

Beyond neighborhood improvement, Montgomery was a union delegate for state employees and recorded the stories of African American veterans, including those who served in World War II with the Tuskegee Airmen – a group in which he also received training – to make sure they weren’t forgotten. Montgomery also was commander of the Jackson County American Legion and earned a lifetime membership title from Sauk Trail Post No. 246 in 1997.

A main lesson Carter learned from her father was about the power of change an individual has.

“I am somebody,” she said. “What I do and what I say has a reflection on not just me, but my family and the totality of my home. Especially being a daughter of someone that’s been such an advocate on this, I try – I can’t follow in his footsteps exactly because he was more of an outspoken person than me – but I will do what I have to do. “

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Charles Montgomery deeply cared about the Jackson community and local veterans. He served in Korea and was a leader in...

Posted by The City of Jackson, Michigan on Tuesday, February 16, 2021

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"","_id":"7MUSQWJNDVAAJIWIQNBCPHU3VU","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1613682817017,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"MORE JACKSON NEWS:","_id":"K3WNBK5Z5NDF3L7IWRVCFAVFEE","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1613682817018,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Jackson music producer who was fatally shot had ‘tough outside, soft inside,’ sister says","_id":"YFNDFMXPDRD3VKNN4PDGGTLCUE","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1613682817019,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Call to reduce Cascade Falls operating hours met with hesitancy from Jackson County officials","_id":"4QDHAEY3EJCQ3PYXL4BSLDRATM","type":"text","additional_properties":"_id":1613682817020,"comments":[],"inline_comments":[],"content":"Letter from the Editor: We asked students, parents and teachers, ‘Are you OK?’ They said ‘no’"],"created_date":"2021-02-18T20:14:21.403Z","revision":"revision_id":"RK5DN4MD75H5VHPMKLMZ5WAGME","parent_id":"5H7EWLKKWNDH7JD523YLWU7SNI","editions":["default"],"branch":"default","user_id":"[email protected]","published":true,"last_updated_date":"2021-02-23T14:17:41.264Z","canonical_url":"/news/jackson/2021/02/a-wwii-vet-spent-decades-improving-jackson-neighborhoods-civic-engagement.html","headlines":"basic":"A WWII vet spent decades improving Jackson neighborhoods, civic engagement","meta_title":"","mobile":"","native":"","print":"","tablet":"","web":"","owner":"sponsored":false,"id":"advancelocal","address":,"workflow":"status_code":1,"subheadlines":"basic":"","description":"basic":"Charles Montgomery was among the Black leaders working to make a difference in Jackson","language":"","label":,"source":"name":"advancelocal","source_type":"staff","system":"composer","taxonomy":{"primary_section":"_id":"https://www.mlive.com/news/jackson","_website":"mlive","type":"section","version":"0.6.0","name":"Jackson","description":"Get the latest news, updates, photos and videos on Jackson, Michigan. 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Louisiana parents to bathe kids in giant seafood boiler

How do you like your children cooked? Despite significant damages following extreme winter weather, a family in Louisiana has managed to survive the storm by tossing their kids in a giant stockpot outside their home — for bathing, of course. The Harper family has found themselves without water since Wednesday […]