This photo of a youthful Crystal Lee King-Jackson caused quite a sensation when it was first posted by Yashi Brown on her Twitter timeline. For those of you who, like me, have always thought that Michael never exactly looked like either Joseph or Katherine, and have wondered where did those dazzling eyes, cheekbones, and wide smile come from-look no further! Mystery solved. Michael may have inherited a lot of great characteristics from his mother, and may have borne a somewhat passing resemblance to his father (which I believe, without cosmetic surgery, would have become more pronounced as he aged) but it’s clear that from this youthful photo of Crystal Lee King -Jackson, Michael’s paternal grandmother, “that face” that we know and love so well obviously owes a huge debt to those Lee/King genetics. And it doesn’t even stop at the face. Check out the hands with those long, lovely fingers!
On Mother’s Day in past years, I have written many tributes to Katherine Jackson. But this year I thought it would be interesting to go a generation back, to the mother of Joe Jackson, and reflect on the life of the very beautiful but troubled young woman who turned many mens’ lives inside out-for better and worse.
Unfortunately, Crystal King’s own life is somewhat shrouded in mystery, and perhaps it is ironic that what little we do know has come down to us filtered through the eyes and memories of the man her actions affected most-her son Joe Jackson. Under such circumstances, it can be easy for a son’s bitterness to taint his memories of his mother, and ultimately to cloud her own story. We may ask: How fair is it, really, for a woman-especially a girl growing up in rural Arkansas at the turn of the century-to have her entire history and identity to be shaped and molded by the males in her life? It is an interesting paradox, especially when we look at this photo of what appears such a vibrant, sassy and confident young woman who looked ready to take on the world in the 1920’s.
Crystal was born in either 1900 or 1907 (accounts seem to vary between these two years and I have not been able to verify which is accurate, though 1907 would put her closer to the right age when she met and married Samuel Jackson). She was only sixteen and a mere schoolgirl-but quite wild by most accounts!-when she caught the eye of her handsome and distinguished teacher, Samuel Jackson, said to have been the first African-American teacher in the state of Arkansas. Theirs was a romance that would have been much frowned upon today, with the thirty-year-old Jackson, a man in a position of authority and power, courting his sixteen-year-old student. But it was a different time and era. Opportunities for women were scarce, and a man like Jackson would have been viewed as a “good catch.”
But what happened to Crystal is what often happens to young girls forced to grow up too soon; to marry and have babies and take on adult responsibilities long before they are either physically, emotionally, or mentally ready for such responsibilities. She broke, and ultimately rebelled.
After marrying Samuel, Crystal gave birth to five children in fairly quick succession, the oldest of those children a son named Joseph Walter Jackson. There was little understanding in those days of postpartum depression and its effects on young mothers, much less sympathy. Regardless of whatever shock their bodies and minds may have borne; regardless of whatever dreams they may have been forced to give up, young women were expected to smile graciously under their load, to bear the pain and to keep the husband and children happy.
Something ultimately snapped in young Crystal, and her life took a downward spiral turn that never quite righted itself. Joe Jackson would grow up with memories of a mother who too often wasn’t there; who disappeared without word for long stretches, leaving him ultimately as the man of the household. Drug addiction and even rumored prostitution became Crystal’s reality (the prostitution, no doubt, a necessity to feed her addictions). Joe remembered his mother as someone who would re-enter his life again, from time to time. Samuel still had his “thing” for her and would always take her back, like the prodigal wife and mother,but these reunions were always short-lived. By the time Joe was twelve, they had separated for good.
I don’t know if Crystal ever completely conquered her demons and found some measure of peace and happiness, but after leaving Samuel permanently, she eventually settled in East Chicago, Indiana, where her son Joseph reunited with her in 1949. It was there that he met young Katherine Scruse, and the rest is history.
But even though Crystal Lee King Jackson lived to a fairly ripe old age (she died in 1992, having lived long enough to see many of her grandchildren become famous) her relationship with her eldest son remained a troubled one. Joe Jackson has stated that those early experiences, of being abandoned by his mother and left to take over as head of the family, scarred him and had much to do with forming his own hardened layers in order to survive. He learned not to show emotion. He learned not to cry. He had to learn how to be tough, and not to be perceived as weak.
Thus, a young man who became hard because he could never really love or understand his mother became, in turn, a hardened father who could never really allow his children to love or understand him. Such is the cycle of family pain and abuse.
Looking back at the photo of this vibrant young woman, one can’t help but wonder if Crystal’s life might have turned out very differently had been allowed to pursue the education that was duly disrupted when her own teacher fell in love and lust with her. Or would she have still been a doomed soul whose ability to drive men to distraction became her own undoing?
Whatever one may ponder about the life of this beautiful but ultimately tragic young woman, or how differently it might have played out had she been born in another era, one thing can’t be denied. Her genetics live on in the eyes and smiles of her famous grandchildren. I can see so much of her, especially in Rebbie, LaToya, Janet, Randy and, most especially, Michael. Genetics are funny that way. I still remember quite vividly that moment from a few years ago when I came face to face with LaToya and how it tripped me out for just a moment because it was “those” eyes; Michael’e eyes, just in a different face. There are some, certain things we can’t deny. Family and genes are right at the top of the list.
It is true that no woman shaped Michael’s life more than his mother Katherine Jackson. But let’s not forget that his family history and legacy-as is true of all of us-was shaped by the lives, sacrifices, heartaches and joys of many women and many mothers. Their blood and their tears are the rivers that flow in our veins.
As Michael might have said, they are the ones who create our HIStory.
I had to take a sidetrack from discussing the Susan Fast book and Dangerous to acknowledge this as a month of milestones for Michael’s two boys. Prince turned 18 today, and just a little over a week from now, Blanket will be turning 13.
There are a couple of things that can make me feel really old-well, maybe three. One is realizing that grunge music is now “classic rock.” Another is anytime I happen past a supermarket tabloid to see Prince William and Kate with baby George. Goodness, it seems like only yesterday that those same tabloid covers were filled with pics of William as a swaddling baby in Diana’s arms!
And the third thing…realizing that Michael Jackson’s firstborn is now an adult! And yes, just like with William, it seems like only yesterday that we were hearing the news that Michael was a father-to-be.
Michael’s three kids have been through a lot since that tragic day almost six years ago when they lost the center of their world, but they have weathered the toughest of those storms and have emerged all the stronger for it. Now, the day that so many fans have longed to see has arrived. Prince is a legal adult, and from this day forward, will be taking the reigns as his own man. Finally, at least some of those never ceasing concerns over the children’s welfare can finally be laid to rest. Prince can now take charge of his decisions and, I am sure, will continue to look out for his younger siblings’s best interests.
As Prince embarks on the road to adulthood, his baby brother Blanket will soon be reaching a milestone of his own: On February 21, he becomes a teenager. Since Michael was apparently so very much into planned parenting, and rarely did anything by happenstance (it seems he was as much of a perfectionist about parenting as he was with everything else in his life) one can’t help but wonder if he planned it this way on purpose, so that as his eldest embarked upon the throne of adulthood, he could help lead his little brother across that troublesome threshold of teenhood. For sure, becoming a teenager can be the most exciting time in a child’s life. But it also comes with its share of problems. In Blanket’s case, I can’t think of any better support system than what he has in his two siblings, Prince and Paris.
Lastly, I cannot feel completely right to rejoice in these milestones for Michael’s children while knowing that, as of this writing, Bobbi Kristina Brown is still fighting for her life. But for the grace of God, Paris could have ended up in a similar fate in 2013, and I am thankful every day that Michael’s beautiful baby girl is still with us. People tend to forget that it’s a tough life for celebrity children, and especially those who have lost their parents far too young. Imagine trying to grieve, and at the same time working your way through all the up’s and down’s of adolescence, beneath the constant, unforgiving glare of the spotlight!
We can be thankful that all three of Michael’s beautiful children have made it through that storm. That isn’t to say that troubles and dark times won’t lie ahead. But every milestone reached is another notch carved, a reminder that love and strong family ties can help to heal all wounds.
Here’s wishing a very happy birthday month to Michael’s two beautiful, young men (I can’t say “boys” anymore!) and a warm embrace to all three. We love you, PP&B!
Hi all! I am going to be on a brief hiatus for a little while, as I am very stressed with work right now and trying to get things caught up before we leave on an out of town trip for the weekend. To tide you over in the meantime, here is an article that has been buried for a long time in the old, pre-2011 Allforloveblog archives. I thought it would be worth resurrecting for two reasons: One, not many people saw it back when it was first posted, since the blog was still relatively new at that time. Secondly, I will soon be doing some important updates to this piece as I am planning my own on-the-road investigation into Michael’s Alabama roots (probably this spring). Now that I have access to the old archives and have copied most of the pre-2011 articles, I will be reprinting and updating quite a few of these classic posts as time permits. Enjoy, and I will be back with all new material, including the latest updates to the “Australian Conspiracy” soon!
While most people are aware of Michael’s roots in Gary, Indiana, not as much is known about Michael’s ties to Alabama. As a native and lifelong resident of Alabama, this is a subject that has fascinated me–largely because, like many Alabamians, I was totally unaware of Michael’s Alabama ties until after his death. After all, it was never something that was widely publicized. His mother Katherine was born here, and her family then moved to Indiana when she was a small child. In fact, to the end of his own life, Michael Jackson retained a slight Alabama inflection, obvious in his speech (but one that, for the most part, only a discerning Alabmaian ear would pick up on). I do remember that it was a huge deal in 1984 when The Jacksons came to Birmingham to rehearse for the Victory tour-a huge deal because it meant, at least for those few weeks, we in Alabama had Michael Jackson all to ourselves for just a little while.
But what most of us Alabamians did not know was just how often Michael was in the state, usually lowkey and even incognitio, of course, to visit his mother’s relatives in Russell County and the small city of Hurtsboro (Katherine was actually born in nearby Barbour County, but her mother and stepfather later resettled in Hurtsboro). In LaToya’s autobiography, she states that Hurtsboro’s population is around 1,000. But a more recent census listed on Wikipedia gives the town’s population as 592.
The name of the town may be more than a bit appropriate, considering that Michael Jackson and my home state, unfortunately, did not always have the most cordial relationship. While I’m sure Michael may have had some happy memories of the state, it seemed later in life that coming to Alabama often spelled disaster for him. His string of bad luck in the state included everything from a racially motivated beating that landed him in an Alabama hospital, to a severe case of stomach cramps that nearly put an end to the Victory tour in ’84.
Of all the things I have learned about Michael’s comings and goings in Alabama, the beating remains for me the most disturbing-disturbing for two reasons, one being the fact that it occurred AFTER he was already famous (in fact, the incident occurred post-Thriller) and, 2: Why was it kept out of the local media and never reported? What were they afraid of? Or did Michael himself choose not to go public with it?
But before getting into all of that, let’s back up for a minute to get some more background on Michael’s Alabama roots.
After June 25th, 2009, a rash of local Alabama writers took an avid interest in educating the public about Michael’s maternal ties to the state. One of the more in-depth and interesting articles came from a colleague of mine, Joseph Margetanski. Margetanski and I both do freelance articles for the same local Alabama paper, “The Valley Planet.” Margetanski had spent a considerable amount of time tracing Michael’s family roots in the state. In his article that appeared in the July 23rd issue, Margetanski wrote:
Michael Jackson’s family ties to Alabama date back to the beginning of the 20th century. His grandfather, Prince Albert Screws, was born October 16, 1907 in Jernigan in RussellCounty, Alabama, just across the state line from Columbus, Georgia. He saw service in the First World War, but his main occupations were railroad work and cotton farming. He later moved to neighboring BarbourCounty. He married Martha Upshaw (from whose mother, Josephine, Michael received his middle name Joseph). Like her husband, Martha was also an Alabama native. And on May 4, 1930, Martha gave birth to Kattie B. Screws.
Kattie’s life was a challenge almost from the moment she was born. Shortly after her birth, the Screws family left BarbourCounty and their name behind. Prince changed their last name to Scruse, and changed Kattie’s name to Katherine Esther Scruse. As if getting three names wasn’t traumatic enough, young Katherine developed polio-all before she was four.
Katherine beat the deadly disease, but it left its mark on her. To this day, she walks with a limp. After her bout with polio, at the age of four, the Scruse family moved north, as did many African-American families. They settled in East Chicago, Indiana, not far from where her famous son would be born. It was there that Katherine met Joseph Jackson, a former boxer…
…As brief as they were, Katherine’s Alabama roots tugged at the souls of her children as well. Michael Jackson sang backup vocals for Kenny Rogers in the country singer’s 1980 hit “Goin’ Home To Alabama.” Four years later, The Jackson 5-brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael-rehearsed in Birmingham for their “Victory” tour. They greeted fans from their hotel balcony, after a heartfelt request from the city’s mayor, Richard Arrington. At least two Alabama residents became intimately involved with the youngest, and most famous, member of the pop group. John Ray of Birmingham, founder of Just In Time Music, Inc., promoted three Michael Jackson concerts in Dallas. David Rowland of Summerdale was Jackson’s pilot for six months, , while the rising star was touring North America. Rowland flew Jackson as far as Niagara Falls and Vancouver…
Not only were the Jacksons in and out of the state many times through the years, but often, in times of her greatest troubles, Michael’s mother Katherine would return here (often on her own) simply to seek solace and to regroup spiritually. Of course, that would make sense. Often, in dark times, one can find the greatest comfort in getting back to their roots. In the early 80′s, when Joseph’s adultery had finally gotten the best of her, Katherine escaped for several weeks to the refuge of tiny Hurstsboro. Later, she would return on a search for her family roots. This was when she looked up a young local man, Larry Screws, who had no idea until that visit that he was actually Michael Jackson’s distant cousin!
But in a county as small and rural as Russell County, Alabama, it doesn’t take much asking around for anyone named “Screws” for one thing to lead to another. Eventually, Katherine was directed to Larry Screws,who of course was delighted to learn he was actually related to the King of Pop. He says it was the “glitz and glamour” of Michael’s life that kept them apart. (Note: I was not able to embed it, but if you click on the link for the below article, there is an interesting local news video on Larry Screws and Michael’s ties to Alabama).
“We were just proud of knowing that they were related to us.” said Larry Screws.
Larry Screws was a distant cousin to Michael Jackson, but he didn’t know it until he was in his early 20’s.
“I guess the thing that strikes us most is that we didnt know of them until she came to us.” said Screws.
Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother’s decided to search for her relatives.
The search lead her back to the place she was born, Alabama. She was born in Barbour County and moved up to East Chicago, Indiana when she was four.
Her maiden name Katherine Screws.
Larry says that’s all she needed to say to find her way to her them.
“Russell County is a county where everybody knows everybody.” said Screws.
Larry says the life of glitz and glamour is the reason he never had a chance to meet his cousin.
“I guess because of the celebrity status we never became close.” said Screws.
Of course, given the frequency of Michael’s visits here, it was probably much more likely that Michael simply did not know of his cousin’s existence. The Screws/Scruse are a large, extended family, scattered throughout the neighboring counties of Russell and Barbour. And every day, it is almost impossible to not find someone claiming to be kin to Michael, claims that are nearly impossible to either verify or disprove with any certainty. But given the proliferation of Scruse/Screws in the area, it’s usually far more logical to assume they are probably being truthful than not.
Michael’s family ties to the state have for sure been played up more since his death. Even in 1984, when The Jacksons spent several weeks in Birmingham rehearsing for Victory, I didn’t recall hearing that much about his family ties. However, as I said, I do recall that his residency here was a HUGE deal. The biggest superstar in the world was right here in Alabama, rehearsing for a tour, and you’d better believe, the local media made the most of it! If he ventured out of the hotel to go to the park, we heard all about it. If he went shopping at a local mall (which he did, in disguise, of course) it made the local papers even as far north as where I live, approximately eighty-two miles away. When he went Witnessing, it was all the talk on the local radio, though of course they did not reveal to the public that he had gone Witnessing door-to-door in the Birmingham suburb of Trussville until the next day.
I remember at the time the reaction of many locals was that they thought it was a little bizarre. Back then, a lot of people weren’t aware that Michael was a Jehovah’s Witness, so it kind of struck people as odd-the idea of this mega-celebrity going door-to-door, in disguise, to talk to locals about Jehovah and to pass out copies of The Watchtower. We didn’t know back then that Witnessing played a huge role in Michael’s faith; it was something he had done for years, even after he was famous, and something he would continue to do for several years thereafter.
I’m sure there were more than a few very surprised Birmingham residents who, after the story broke, were thinking back to that “nice but rather nervous acting, young man with the afro and mustache” who knocked on their door, and thinking, “Was it…could it have been….?” In interviews, Michael always said that one of the things he enjoyed about Witnessing door-to-door was the rare glimpses it gave him into normalcy; an excuse to see how average, ordinary people lived their lives. Usually, his disguises worked well enough, but he said that while it was easy enough to fool the men of the household, the women were much more challenging-and the kids even worse. They would see right through the disguises. “Mommy, it’s Michael Jackson!”
(Note: The original “Alabama News” link I posted with this article in 2010, which detailed some of the stories from the chauffeur who took Michael on that Trussville Witnessing venture, has since disappeared. Among his stories included an incident with a vicious dog, and how he tried to park the limo insconspicously on a residential street while Michael walked on foot throughout the neighborhoods. I am hoping at some point I will be able to track this driver down-he apparently owns a limo rental service in Birmingham-and interview him).
Here is what is apparently the only remnants of that story still available online:
1984: Michael Jackson left Birmingham after concluding rehearsals for his “Victory” tour at the BJCC. He was largely unseen during the time here, save for a balcony appearance and a Sunday morning when Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness at the time, disguised himself and went door-to-door in Trussville for about two hours. He wore a mustache, afro wig, hat and black suit while he handed out materials about his religion. No one knew it was him, until it hit the papers the next day.
I am not quite sure why this outlet reported it as such a lowkey affair, because my memory of that time is certainly quite different. However, I think they mean it was lowkey in the sense that Michael did rarely come out of hiding to show himself during those two weeks. Rather, it was the intrigue; the possibility; the ANTICIPATION of a possible Michael Jackson sighting that fueled most of the local hysteria. Judging by the local media, it was, however, almost a relief when the rehearsals were over and the last vestige of The Jacksons had finally packed up and moved on. The presence of Michael Jackson in a town the size of Birmingham (even if, granted, it IS our largest city) had practically brought the city to a standstill, with traffic jams, crowd control and security issues a constant problem. Although it was an exciting few weeks, I think most of the town’s more conservative citizens (i.e, “the old fogies”) were heaving a big sigh of relief when the madness was over. But oddly enough, in a time when my entire home state of Alabama was caught up in Michaelmania and reporting his every move, his every coming and going, it seems rather bizarre that the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to him-or to anyone-went unreported and ignored in the media.
In LaToya’s autobiography, she gives a brief but horrific account of how things went down. The incident apparently occurred during one of Michael’s many routine visits to his mother’s relatives in Russell County. During a drive with Bill Bray, an associate who had made the trip with Michael and Katherine, Bray decided to stop for gas and to use the restroom. Michael, who loved nothing better than a chance to browse and putter around in small shops where no one would know who he was, couldn’t resist the temptation to go into the shop next door. When Bray came out of the gas station, he noticed Michael was gone. Then, according to LaToya’s account, he heard this “Help! Help” coming from the shop. He ran inside to find Michael on the floor and a white man standing over him, kicking him viciously in the stomach and head, over and over, while shouting, “I hate all you niggers!”
It took Bray several minutes of struggling to get the guy off of Michael. The incident reportedly left him with several severe cuts and bodily injuries, resulting in a hospital stay. As it turned out, the reputed “cause” of the attack was that, according to the shopowner (the guy who was beating Michael), Michael had put a “candy bar in his pocket.” Bray argued and said that was ridiculous…”He doesn’t steal, and he doesn’t even like candy!” Michael continued to protest his innocence, but the man kept insisting that Michael was trying to steal from him.
Well, actually, I think Bill Bray may have been trying at least in part to cover for his friend-Michael certainly DID love candy-but I highly doubt he was trying to steal; this was Michael Jackson, who had the #1 selling album in the world, why in heck would he need to steal a fifty-cent candy bar! (Though the way he liked to pull pranks, it’s entirely possible he could have been “messing” with the guy as a joke, but if that was the case, it was a prank that backfired on him horribly).
But whatever the case, the fact was that the guy never gave him the benefit of the doubt, and for one reason only-because he was black. Reportedly, the man never even recognized who he was; as LaToya put it, Michael to him was “just another nigger he could abuse.”
So during the time that was supposed to have been a fun and pleasant visit with relatives ended up being, for Michael, a very painful time laid up in an Alabama hospital, being treated for his severe cuts and bruises.
As the story went, Katherine called from Alabama to report what had happened. The family was horrified and outraged; according to LaToya, Jermaine was ready to fly down here and “whoop Alabama ass.” But cooler reasoning prevailed, and instead, a lawsuit was filed against the store owner. However, nothing came of it.
“Two girls standing outside had witnessed the beating, and one offered to testify on Michael’s behalf. We felt very strongly that racial violence must be stopped, but unfortunately, justice did not prevail in this case. The racist harbored no regrets. In fact, discovering that the black man he’d assaulted was a celebrity only inflamed his hatred. Now he threatened tokillMichael. Bill convinced us that this person was mad, that the threat was quite serious, and that it was better for everyone to drop the action. None of us was happy about this, but there was really no choice.”-LaToya Jackson.
As I said before, my big question-since this incident reportedly occurred at or close to the same time as when Michael was here for the Victory tour and rehearsals-was why it was never reported in the local media? Or for that matter, why Michael Jackson being the victim of a racist beating never made it into the news at all (amazing, considering how his every sneeze or fart was usually fodder for the tabloids?). However, given that the lawsuit was dropped out of concern for what action this guy might have taken, perhaps it’s understandable why the incident was kept lowkey. But I also have to wonder if Alabama didn’t feel some sense of shame that something like this could happen to the biggest star in the world right here in our own backyard…and was that part of the reason why it never made it into the papers?
Through the years, it seemed that Michael continued to have bad luck whenever he crossed paths with my home state. A Brazilian chef, Rema Vila Real, who had worked for Michael, and whose talents for healthy dishes was one he keenly appreciated, recalled in an interview the time she was mysteriously but urgently summoned to drop everything she was doing and get on a plane-immediatly.
“… I was living in West Los Angeles in a small apartment when I got a phone call. The person on the phone asked me to look outside. He said: “See the limousine? Get in it, now!” I told him I could not because I was taking care of a person off the street and could not leave him. They said that they would send someone to look after the person right away and for me to get into the car. I told them I had to change my clothes because I all dirty from cleaning. They didn’t care. Finally I agreed when the man arrived to take care of my guest and I was taken to a big building in Beverly Hills and up to the very top penthouse. It was very luxurious.
The man on the other side of the desk handed me a ticket and said ‘you are going to the airport right now. Here is your ticket.” I asked him why. He explained to me that Michael Jackson was having stomach aches and specifically requested me to be his “nutritionist” on the “Thriller” tour. He was feeling sick to his stomach and refused to go on stage until they sent me to be his private cook. They were all very nervous. They said they were losing millions of dollars in canceled shows and I had to go right then.
I told them I could not and could only go in the morning. After a lot of arguing, the agreed to let me go home and they picked me up early in the morning and I was off to BirminghamAlabama…”
So…it looks like the stomach ailment from unhealthy eating that was costing the tour millions reached its crisis point in…where else, Alabama! (Maybe too many stops at those Birmingham barbecue joints, hmmm?).
But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, one of the funniest segments of the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies is when he talks about going “down home” to Alabama, and we see the clip of Michael, his brothers and relatives having a good, old-fashioned hootenanny. Even though bad luck sometimes seemed to dog his steps in Alabama, I think he also enjoyed the bit of anonymity of just getting back to the country, traveling the backroads, shopping at The Salvation Army and being able, for a little while, to just drop the mask of stardom and see how us ol’ regular folks down here live. I can never travel I-65 (Alabama’s main north-south interstate) without thinking how many times Michael and his family must have traveled this road; probably more times than any of us everyday Alabamians will ever know. To this day, I still don’t think most people around here realize the extent of Michael Jackson’s Alabama connection.
But maybe that’s not a bad thing. At least it ensures that tiny Hurtsboro, Alabama and rural County Road 12 in Russell County are not destined to become mega tourist attractions anytime soon. Hopefully, they will remain as pure and untouched as they were in this hilarious clip from a Jackson Alabama road trip in 1979: