Seventy-five years ago a freedom fighter was born in Greenville, South Carolina. His name is Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. and I need to say something about this brother that I have known and worked with for decades in the ongoing Civil Rights Movement in the U. S. and in the overall freedom struggle internationally.
Too often, particularly among Black American leaders, we are too quick to say something negative about each other, and too late to say a positive word about that leader while they’re still alive. Yes, I am talking about Black unity among Black leaders. It’s a subject or a call that is rarely mentioned today. Why?
Some would argue that the division or lack of operational unity among Black American leaders today is a symptom or byproduct of centuries of racial, economic and political oppression. I believe that is partly true. But on the other hand, disunity is not something that we are born with. It is socially generated. My point here is simply to remind all of us that we need more unity not just among our leaders, but we also need more unity in the Black American community in general.
I was in Detroit, Michigan recently to attend the 16th annual Rainbow PUSH Global Automotive Summit on October 8, on behalf of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). Sister Glenda Gill, another strong freedom fighter and the executive director of the Rainbow PUSH/CEF Automotive Project made sure that the audience was made aware that the day was Rev. Jackson’s 75th birthday.
As I watched and listened to Rev. Jackson take the podium at the kick off reception, it brought back many positive memories of the past. I have been a firsthand witness to the remarkable, game-changing leadership and irrepressible spirit of our brother leader. Although I was just a little younger, we both had the privilege and awesome pleasure and responsibility to work with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the 1960s.
At the automotive summit in front of industry corporate executives, Rev. Jackson challenged everyone to understand that there is a difference between winning freedom and establishing equality, in particular economic equality and equal opportunity to fulfill one’s true God-given potential in life.
“Rainbow PUSH will continue to engage with the auto manufacturers to protect consumers and continue the quest for equity and fairness,” said Rev. Jackson.
From the early days of SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago in the 1960s to the 2015 auto summit in Detroit, Rev. Jackson has been the most consistent Black American leader on the question of economic justice and equality for Black Americans and for all people throughout the world. Black Americans, according to the Nielsen research company, have an estimated collective buying power of $1.1 trillion in the United States. Yet, too many of our communities remain in poverty.
Thus, the quest today for economic equity and parity should be priorities for all our national organizations and movements. I also remember when Rev. Jackson decided to run to be president of the United States in 1984.
His campaign became both a political and spiritual crusade to lift the aspirations and hopes of millions of people across the nation as part of an emerging Rainbow Coalition. Rev. Wyatt T. Walker and I were the national clergy coordinators for Rev. Jackson’s 1984 political empowerment campaign. ‘Run Jesse Run’ became the proud theme for millions of people who were crying out for freedom, justice and equality.
The truth must be told. Rev. Jackson’s 1984 campaign opened the door wider for the subsequent, successful historic political campaign that led to the election of President Barack H. Obama in 2008. During the past 60 years we have made progress, but we still have a long way to go to fulfill Dr. King’s dream. We all should be vocal and grateful that Rev. Jackson is still on the case with outstanding leadership.
We thank you, Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. We salute you, we respect you and may we work today to raise up a new generation of freedom fighters who know what it means to advance the cause of freedom and equality for all.
(Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the president/CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at ; and for lectures and other professional consultations at <drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc>.)