When the Rev. Solomon Jackson Jr. hit the jackpot with a $260 million Powerball ticket in 2009, he pledged to use the money for good, and especially for local education-related projects.
A few months later, the S.C. State Museum Foundation’s board was discussing its difficulty raising funds from the public for the long-planned observatory, planetarium and 4D theater project.
“Somebody said, ‘Why don’t we approach the guy who won the Powerball?’” recalled Adrienne Bellinger, then director of the foundation. “Why not? We knew the answer if we didn’t ask.”
Foundation leaders met with Jackson and his attorney, I.S. Leevy Johnson. The effort didn’t involve arm-twisting as much as confidence-building. Jackson wanted to know more about the project, how it could impact the community and how it could be sustained, Bellinger recalled.
Assured on those points, Jackson donated $1 million. Then came the toughest part of the process, persuading Jackson to let the museum put his name on the 4D theater. “That’s where the arm-twisting was,” Bellinger said.
Since he won the Powerball, Jackson has preferred to be a behind-the-scenes benefactor to local causes. He allowed Morris College to publicize his $10 million donation to that Sumter institution, and his $1.7 million donation to the renovation of the Booker T. Washington High School auditorium gained public notice.
But most of his generosity, which includes scholarships for local students, has been done quietly. Jackson declined to be interviewed about his museum donation. But he allowed the museum to put his name on the Rev. Dr. Solomon Jackson Jr. 4D Theater.
Bellinger said Jackson’s gift was a turning point in the private donation campaign. “To have an individual commit such a huge amount to a single project was important,” she said. “He told us he wanted to get behind it to make sure that future generations have educational resources that earlier generations didn’t have.”