James Sidney Jackson was born on July 30, 1944, in Detroit to Pete and Johnnie Mae Wilson Jackson and grew up in Inkster, Mich., southwest of Detroit. During his almost half-century at the University of Michigan, he often got humorous mileage out of the fact that his undergraduate degree in psychology was earned, in 1966, at rival Michigan State University, where he was initially attracted by the engineering program.
He earned a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Toledo, where, he said years later, he learned a lot about rats.
“I was a rat-runner,” he said, “and a fairly good one at that.”
But, he said, he grew disenchanted with that type of research after a lab rat bit him and his professor was more concerned about the incident’s effect on the rat than its effect on him. He switched to social psychology, earning a Ph.D. in that field at Wayne State University in 1972 and then joining the University of Michigan faculty.
He retired this year.
In addition to being founding director of the Program for Research on Black Americans, which is part of the university’s Institute for Social Research, he directed that institute for 10 years. He also served on the National Science Board.
For the National Survey of Black Americans, Dr. Jackson developed innovative methods of sampling the Black population, said David Lam, current director of the institute. Earlier national surveys had missed areas where that population was small, but Dr. Jackson was determined to achieve a truly representative sample.
That, Dr. Jackson noted years later, included sending his surveyors “into harm’s way,” since his method targeted specific addresses, including ones in places like the notorious Cabrini Green housing development in Chicago, where gang wars and crime were rampant in the late 1970s.