Civil rights leader and corporate executive John Edward Jacob was born on December 16, 1934 in Trout, Louisiana to Emory and Claudia Jacob. Jacob was raised in Houston, Texas and graduated from Jack Yates Senior High School in 1953. He went on to attend Howard University, where he received his B.A. degree in economics in 1957 and his M.S.W. degree in 1963.
Jacob first worked as a social worker for the City of Baltimore’s Department of Public Welfare in the early 1960s. In 1965, he joined the Washington, D.C. Urban League, where he served as director of education, and then as acting president. Jacob became president and chief executive officer of the San Diego, California Urban League in 1970, and was appointed president and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Urban League in 1975. In 1979, he was hired as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the National Urban League, Inc. Then, in 1982, Jacob was named president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, replacing Vernon Jordan. As president and CEO of the National Urban League, Jacob fought cutbacks in federal social programs, solidified the League’s internal structure and expanded its outreach. He established the League’s Permanent Development Fund, the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Training Center, the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Race Relations Program, the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Commemoration Ceremony, and the NULITES youth-development program. During his time as president and CEO, Jacob also authored a syndicated column on national and international issues that appeared weekly in 600 newspapers.
In 1994, Jacob stepped down as head of the National Urban League and joined Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. as executive vice president and chief communications officer. Later, he was named executive vice president – global communications. There, he chaired Anheuser-Busch’s Charitable Contributions Committee and served as a member of the company’s Strategy Committee and Business Practice Committee. He retired in 2008.
Jacob has served on the boards of Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc.; Coca-Cola Enterprises, Inc.; Morgan Stanley; LTV Corporation; NYNEX New York; Continental Corporation; National Westminster Bancorp; the Legal Aid Society; the Drucker Foundation; the National Conference of Christians and Jews; the Economic Policy Institute; the National Parks Foundation; the Local Initiative Support Corporation; and the PGA of America. In addition, he served as chairman of Howard University’s board of trustees.
Jacob’s honors include the National NAACP’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Howard University’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the National Network for Social Work Chauncey A. Alexander Lifetime Achievement Award, The National Action Network “Keeper of the Dream” Award, United Way of America’s National Professional Leadership Award, the Laurel Wreath Award from the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, and numerous honorary degrees. In honor of Jacob’s corporate leadership and contribution, the Anheuser-Busch Foundation contributed a gift of $1 million to endow the Anheuser-Busch/John E. Jacob Chair in the Howard University School of Business, the first endowed chair in the university’s history. In addition, Anheuser-Busch established the John E. Jacob Community Service Award in recognition of his lifelong commitment to serving communities across the United States. In 2012, Jacob and his wife funded the John E. and Barbara S. Jacob Distinguished Professorship in the Howard University School of Social Work, the first funded distinguished professorship in the school’s history.
John E. Jacob was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 8, 2014.