Rhett Jackson Wins Hefner First Amendment Award

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On Thursday, May 11, The Playboy Foundation presented longtime South Carolina independent bookseller Rhett Jackson with a 2006 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Lifetime Achievement Award at New York's Cipriani 23rd Street. The award ceremony recognized Jackson and seven other individuals for their personal achievements in defending the First Amendment.

American Booksellers Association COO Oren Teicher introduced Jackson at the awards ceremony and talked about his "passionate commitment to the idea that books change lives."

Rhett Jackson

Jackson and his wife, Betty, opened The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1975. In 1982, Jackson was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Booksellers Association and four years later became the association's president. He was also one of the founding members of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression on whose board he served for more than a decade. Rhett and Betty Jackson sold The Happy Bookseller to longtime employee Andy Graves in 2003.

In March, ABA announced that Rhett and Betty Jackson would be honored at this year's Celebration of Bookselling at BookExpo America with the presentation of the ABA Lifetime Achievement Award, only the second time the association has bestowed this honor.

Introducing Jackson at the Playboy Foundation luncheon, Teicher noted, "During Rhett's presidency, ABA strongly defended the First Amendment rights of booksellers and readers. In 1986, ABA joined Playboy and others in suing the Meese Commission over a letter that it had sent to a list of national magazine retailers threatening to identify them as distributors of 'pornography.' The lawsuit forced the commission to withdraw its letter and its threat."

The following year Jackson worked to oppose the nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court because of Bork's support of new restrictions on First Amendment rights.

Jackson also worked for various civil rights causes and spearheaded a successful campaign to end segregation in the Methodist Church.

"Rhett was called to bookselling no less certainly than his twin brother, Larry, had been called to the ministry," said Teicher, who quoted Aldous Huxley to express Jackson's contribution to bookselling: "Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting."

The Jacksons will receive their ABA Lifetime Achievement Award at the Celebration of Bookselling on Friday, May 19, at BEA. The award will be presented by their longtime friend, author Pat Conroy.

The other 2006 Hefner First Amendment Awards winners are:

  • Paisley Dodds, an Associated Press reporter who reported on the activities at the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Print Journalism;
  • Patricia Princehouse, the leader of Ohio Citizens for Science who, seeing a profound and rising challenge to the separation of church and state in American schools, organized a successful coalition to preserve science education in Ohio's public schools, for Education;
  • Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago Law School who wrote Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (Norton), for Book Publishing;
  • Jack Spadaro, director of the National Mine Safety and Health Academy who exposed irresponsible mining practices, corporate collusion, and government cover-up in the wake of an environmental mining disaster, for Government;
  • Shelby Knox, a student and subject of the film The Education of Shelby Knox who challenged abstinence-only sex education and alarmist misinformation in her Lubbock, Texas, high school, for Arts and Entertainment; and
  • Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt, producers/directors of The Education of Shelby Knox, for Arts and Entertainment.

Each received a $5,000 honorarium and a specially designed crystal plaque commemorating his or her individual achievements. --Karen Schechner