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Jackson was born in Columbia, South Carolina.[1] She was adopted and raised by Reverend C. W. Dunlap and his wife, Ella Fair Dunlap, when she was orphaned as a child.[1] She attended Booker T. Washington High School and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology at Johnson C. Smith University.[1] After working as a high school teacher for a short time, Jackson moved to Washington, D.C. and began working with the War Department.[2] In 1944 she was offered a position in the Military Archives Division of the National Archives and Records Administration, where she became a self-taught expert on records pertaining to the War Department, the U.S. Army and Navy, the Adjutant General's Office, the Engineer Department, the Bureau of Colored Troops, and the Freedmen's Bureau.[2][3]

The historian Ira Berlin credits Jackson for supporting a transformation in United States historical thought, writing, "A new generation of historians, understanding that transformation of the American present required the transformation of the American past, took up the challenge of rewriting our history. When they arrived at the National Archives, Sara Jackson was ready...She directed them, gently through the power of suggestion and, then, if they did not get the point— well, Sara had her way. Armed with knowledge squeezed from the records, scholars began to write a new history of the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that history rests, to a considerable measure, on the work of Sara Jackson, for Sara Jackson was a great teacher."[3] He later dedicated a volume in his Freedom series to Jackson with the inscription, "To Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire."[2]

In D.C., Jackson completed graduate work at the American University and the Catholic University of America.[1] In 1968 she began working with the letters of many prominent Americans at the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a division of NARA.[1] She retired from the agency in 1990.[2] On April 19, 1991, Jackson died of cancer at her home in Washington, D.C.[2]

Awards and honors

"Prologue: Special Issue on Federal Records and African American History". Retrieved 2016-08-04.