First Gen Icon: Samuel L. Jackson


Contributed by Madison Gleissner, Newsletter Editor

Samuel L. Jackson is today a household name in America, and a face frequently recognized on television. He has appeared in over 100 movies, many of which have been named blockbuster hits, including Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, and Marvel films, and has accumulated impressive amounts of wealth and fame, even by Hollywood’s standards. Despite his many accomplishments, Samuel’s journey to the top was not an easy one. Throughout his life, Samuel L. Jackson struggled with family problems and racial prejudice, and navigated college life as a first-generation college student.

Samuel L. Jackson was born in December of 1948 in Washington DC and raised by his grandmother in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His mother was a factory worker who re-entered Samuel’s life at 10 years old, and his father, who abandoned Samuel as a child, later died of alcoholism.  Growing up in Tennessee in the 1950s, Samuel was exposed to racial prejudice from an early age. He studied at segregated schools, recalls watching movies at the theatre edited for a black audience, and became increasingly involved in the black power movement.  He even protested the lack of diversity within Morehouse College’s board of trustees, a move that got Samuel removed from the institution.

Samuel Jackson was readmitted to Morehouse College, and in 1972 he became the first in his family to earn a degree. Although originally Samuel wanted to pursue a career in Marine Biology, he earned his degree in theatre after discovering his true passion. After graduating, Samuel L. Jackson joined the Black Image Theatre Company and met his to-be wife, LaTanya. In 1976, they moved to New York City, where Samuel began acting in off-Broadway productions and made an influential acquaintance: Spike Lee. Spike Lee motivated Samuel by believing in his acting talent, and asking Samuel to play in Lee’s film, Jungle Fever. The role won Jackson the Best Supporting Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival – a category created just because of his performance!

Samuel went on to star in many big-name films, including Star Wars and Pulp Fiction, and was named the highest-grossing actor in 2011 by The Guinness Book of World Records. At that time, his estimated wealth was in excess of 7 billion dollars – an extraordinary amount for any person, let alone one that came from humble and often rocky beginnings. Jackson says of his wife, “she always says to me that I have now grown into the man that she always knew I could be.”


Heemst, wladimir van, and Pedro Borges. “Samuel L. Jackson.” IMDb,,

“Who Is Samuel L. Jackson? Everything You Need to Know.” Childhood, Life Achievements & Timeline,