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Legacy of Rev. Jesse Jackson Celebrated at Georgetown Today

November 7, 2011 – Friends and colleagues praised the contributions of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. during a celebration of his life and legacy at Georgetown Nov. 7 by Jackson and fellow activist Rev. Al Sharpton Jr.

Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown, coordinated the event, which included a host of panelists who talked about African American history and Jackson’s impact on the civil rights movement.

“This event is to celebrate the 70th year of one of the most extraordinary freedom fighters in the history of our nation,” Dyson said.

Working with King

Jackson, who turned 70 last month, worked with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, participating in the Selma to Montgomery marches and other protests.

He also led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket, an organization attempting to improve economic conditions for black communities in Chicago. Later, he created the Rainbow Coalition (which merged with Operation Push) to advocate social justice and civil rights.

Sharpton said Jackson helped transform King’s actions in the south into a national movement, something he said historians and commentators have overlooked.

Chicago Impact

“Had not Jesse Jackson succeeded with [Operation] Breadbasket in Chicago, which expanded around the country, Dr. King’s base would have been a regional southern base,” Sharpton said. “This is something that we rarely talk about. Dr. King was a southern hero with a global reputation but he had a southern organization.”

When the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (who died in 1990) succeeded King as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Sharpton said Abernathy did not do as well as King did in bringing diverse regions together for the civil rights movement.

Sharpton also said that Jackson’s efforts at the forefront of the civil rights movement helped set the tone for the 1970s and 1980s, especially Jackson’s presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.

Breaking Barriers

“He broke the barriers in the progressive side of the American body politic with the concept of a rainbow coalition,” Sharpton said, uniting Americans of all kinds into one unified progressive movement.

At the event, the Rev. Marcia L. Dyson (Michael Eric Dyson’s wife) moderated the panel discussion, which included James Peterson, director of Africana Studies and associate professor of English at Lehigh University; Gary Flowers, executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum; Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office; Grace Ji-Sun Kim, associate professor of doctoral theology at Moravian Theological Seminary; and Jeff Johnson, MSNBC commentator.

The Rev. Frederick D. Haynes, pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, gave an impassioned “thank you” speech to Jackson.

Structural Crisis

Jackson gave the closing remarks.

Referring to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Jackson said today’s United States has a “structural crisis” that is putting its citizens “in limbo.”

He said that movement echoes King’s March on Washington in 1963.

“It’s just an extension of occupying the Mall, but today when we bail out the banks with interest free money … somebody’s got to say something,” he said.