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Irene Jackson, Bethlehem Steel worker, women’s rights advocate

Jan. 26, 1940 – Aug. 27, 2016

Irene Jackson, one of the first women hired as a production worker at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna in the early 1960s, thought that the provisions for the women were unfair.

Men had restrooms inside the building. Women had to go out into the factory yard in all kinds of weather to use portable toilets.

Mrs. Jackson took up a picket sign and the protest caught the attention of the White House. As a result, indoor facilities were installed for the women.

“My mom wasn’t a troublemaker,” her eldest daughter, Antoinette “Tonie” Caraway, said, “but she believed in equal rights.”

She also believed in equal education.

Caraway recalled how her mother campaigned to transfer her and her brother to another school after seeing the battered old textbooks being used in their neighborhood school on Buffalo’s East Side.

Then, after they were assigned to School 66 in South Buffalo, where students had new textbooks, she was distressed because they had to take three buses to get there and three more to come home.

When a bus driver shut the door in her children’s faces and left them at the curb, she went to City Hall.

Her campaign resulted in the assignment of special buses, two of them, to pick up children from several neighborhoods and take them directly to their schools in other parts of the city.

Mrs. Jackson continued to work at Bethlehem Steel until the late 1970s, when she was laid off. In 1983, she became a youth counselor for the State Division for Youth, working with troubled young people for nine years.

Then, earning certification as a nursing assistant, she worked in nursing homes and hospitals in Buffalo and Florida until she retired in 2002. She also worked as a private duty caregiver. Her daughter said she was sought out for her ability to calm difficult patients.

Born Irene Ingram in Tennessee, she came to Buffalo with her family in 1943 and was a graduate of East High School.

Since 1992, she divided her time between Buffalo and Clearwater, Fla., and was affiliated with churches in both places.

Locally, she was a member of Jesus Crusade Temple Church and took part in the telephone prayer team for 12 years. She was a guest with pastor Rev. Edward Smith on WUFO radio.

Active in the lives of many of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she frequently traveled to be with them.

She died Aug. 27 in Clearwater, Fla. Her daughter said the cause was medical complications. She was 76.

Surviving in addition to her daughter were five other daughters, Victorene, Roxanne Bailey, Verkeshia Bell, Felicia Thompson and Yaiesha Williams; six sons, Vergie Jr., Anthony Sr., Lamont, Jermaine, Vergie IV and Wendell Williams; 23 grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in Zion Dominion Global Ministries, 895 N. Forest Road, Amherst.

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