Investigative reporter, columnist, editor, novelist. Dot Jackson was born in 1932 in Miami, Florida, to William Walter Woodin Mauldin and Doretta Eulalia Thode, who were both born and reared in the Appalachian area of the Keowee River Valley of South Carolina. Jackson’s only sibling, Walter Wilds Mauldin, died in a plane crash on his twenty-first birthday during the battle of Iwo Jima. Her mother, a teacher and professional artist, was an offspring of the German Colonization Society that founded Walhalla, South Carolina. Her father worked on a small truck farm in Florida during the Depression and helped build dams for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Jackson felt a personal sense of “place” when the Mauldins moved temporarily to Hot House Township in Cherokee, North Carolina. The family subsequently returned to the Everglades area where her father worked to build a base for naval blimps.
Dot Jackson received a music scholarship from the University of Miami where she also studied dance but dropped out her junior year to marry psychologist Bill (Willy) Jackson, whose parents were from Grand Cayman Island. They had three children—Frederick Walter, Thomas Julian, and Johanna Katharine. Tom died during his senior year in college; both Fred and Katharine live in the mountains of North Carolina. Jackson belonged to a “small but inept ballet group led by an elderly Russian woman”; she also served a lengthy time on the substitute teacher circuit.
From earliest childhood, Dot Jackson was aware that her family revered Ben Robertson, one of their cousins who became a war correspondent and worked with Edward R. Murrow. After his last furlough home, he wrote Red Hills and Cotton, a family history of life in the Carolina hills. It became a bestseller when it was published in 1942. Ben died the next year when his plane, bound for London, crashed.
Jackson and her family moved to Charlotte in 1962 and lived there for over twenty years. She worked as a proofreader, copy editor, reporter, and columnist for the Charlotte Observer. She also wrote for the Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail. Her investigative reporting included murder trials, snake-handling churches, and environmental battles. Jackson’s work earned her two Pulitzer Prize nominations and the award for National Conservation Writer of the Year. She also won an Alicia Patterson Fellowship to study the economics of southern Appalachia.
Dot Jackson co-authored, with Frye Gaillard, The Catawba River (1983), illustrated by Don Sturkey and published by Gardner Webb College Press. With Michael Hembree, she co-authored Keowee: The Story of the Keowee River Valley in Upstate South Carolina (1995). She provided commentary in two films by Neal Hutcheson: The Last One, about Popcorn Sutton and his last moonshine run, and The Outlaw Lewis Redmond, featuring the upcountry’s most wanted nineteenth-century outlaw. In late 1984, Dot Jackson moved to Pickens County, where her ancestors lived for over 200 years, to work on a project for the Anderson Independent Mail. Her stellar career in journalism, which earned her membership in the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame, was followed by the publication of Refuge: A Novel, published in 2006 by the Novello Festival Press of Charlotte. Jackson noted that after years of working for newspapers, writing fiction took a “different set of muscles.” This regional tale with a thick local accent uncovers family secrets about Mary Seneca (“Sen”) Steele, a determined and independent woman from Charleston who leaves an abusive husband and flees to the Appalachian Mountains. Sen and her two young children, Pet and Hugh, settle into an abandoned family homestead, discover the hardships of rural mountain life, and learn how to grow crops and care for livestock. She discovers strong ties to her paternal kinfolk, especially her cousin Ben Aaron, with whom she falls in love and bears a child.
In 2010 Dorothea Mauldin Jackson was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors during a ceremony at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg. Jackson is the cofounder and on-site manager of the Birchwood Center for Arts and Folklife, her current refuge in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina. Fundraising for Birchwood, she says, is “an honest cause on behalf of the southern Appalachian culture because we have some near-sacred skills and arts and traditions that need and deserve to live. I want to see it [the center] evolve into a self-sufficient and secure entity, with the old house repaired and safe to use as studios and a discussion parlor . . . comfortable accommodations for teachers and students to stay here and work.”
“Dot Jackson.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Fisher, Ann H. “Refuge.” Library Journal 131.11 (2006): 57.