A tribute to San Francisco’s first Black surgeon, Dr. Oscar Jackson

In 2019, Dr. Oscar Jackson and his wife Norma felt that the time was right to endow a scholarship at Howard University College of Medicine. “If someone does not step up to help support these future medical students from underserved and disadvantaged backgrounds, they will not have the opportunity to live their dream of becoming a doctor,” said Dr. Jackson. He hopes that current students will excel in areas of scientific research such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease that afflict so many African Americans. He is also hopeful that many will choose to serve inner city communities. Dr. Jackson’s celebration of life was held Feb. 8 at Grace Cathedral.

by Fred Jordan

Having traveled all over the world, lived a long time in the Bay Area and known at least 10,000 people, I can say with pride that the most amazing person I ever met was Dr. Oscar Jackson, an eminent Black San Francisco surgeon, businessman, military officer, world traveler, explorer, philanthropist, fraternity brother, husband, father and remarkable storyteller.

Maybe the reason he considered me his little brother was because our backgrounds were similar. He graduated from Howard University College of Medicine and I graduated from Howard University School of Engineering. He served as a military officer in the US Air Force in the Korean War, I served as a military officer in the US Air Force in the Vietnam War, years later.

Most importantly, I have just described a period of time that Dr. Jackson, an African American surgeon, would have had no other alternative but to be a pioneer in overcoming the racial barriers for African Americans present at that time. After graduating from medical school in 1955 and a stint in the US Air Force, he became the first Black surgeon at San Francisco General Hospital.

He went on from there to form the first Black owned HMO medical facility of eight to 10 doctors and nurses in competition with Kaiser Permanente. Wow! Of course, he had some strong and courageous partners with him such as surgeons Dr. Ernest Bates and Dr. Ron Clark. However, the federal government pulled the funding on that program and the HMO folded. But it led the way for incoming physicians to the Bay Area. At one time over 50 percent of the 250 member Howard University Bay Area Alumni Association were medical doctors and dentists.

In reflecting on Oscar’s medical career, I am reminded of the story of two young men walking down the street and one turns to the other and says, “You know the early bird gets the worm.” The second man responds, “Yeah, but if you are Black and the first in your field, the second mouse gets the cheese.” That was Oscar Jackson – leading the way and taking the hits while paving the way for others. Even today his endowed scholarships of Oscar and Norma Jackson at UCSF and Howard University bring meaningful testimony from the recipients that can be reviewed online.

Yet, we had few discussions around medical. TRAVEL was the big subject. Oscar was a “traveling man.” It seemed he visited half of the countries in the world. I could not mention a country that I had visited that he had not visited before with a specific adventure.

He would tell me stories of being in the Central American jungles of Costa Rica and Belize barely avoiding those big caiman crocodiles, jaguars and venomous snakes. He told me of his travels down the Amazon River in Brazil, where the huge Anaconda snake was known to swallow a man alive, and then continuing on to Chile.

We shared stories of visiting Iceland in the Arctic and laughed so hard when I told him that when my US Air Force plane had trouble and landed in Iceland, the airport quarantined me as the only Black military because they did not want their race to be tainted by any Black people.

But Oscar proudly shared those adventures with his tough and courageous partner and wife, Norma. They visited over 30 countries together. In fact, once I was in South Africa with Congresswoman Barbara Lee in a place called Sun City outside of Johannesburg.

There, in Sun City, I was walking down a mall lined with gold throughout, the most beautiful mall I had ever seen anywhere in the world, when I passed this gentleman with a beautiful lady. Just as I started down the steps saying to myself, “This is the place I need to be,” Norma taps me on the shoulder and says, “Fred, you just passed your friend Oscar Jackson upstairs!”

Dr. Oscar Jackson, the most amazing person I ever met.

Fred Jordan, who heads a world-renowned engineering firm and is president of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce, can be reached.at SFACC, 1485 Bayshore Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94124, 415-749-6400 or fredjordan@fejordan.com.