By Chinta Strausberg
In commemoration of the 48th death anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., is holding a candlelight vigil 6 p.m. Monday at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, 930 E. 50th St., as a reminder of King’s unfinished agenda and fight for racial, social and economic justice.
Asking all faith leaders to attend, Jackson is holding the commemorative service at the same hour King was shot on Thursday, April 4, 1968, while standing on the Lorraine Motel balcony in Memphis, TN.
While on that balcony kidding with some of his lieutenants, Dr. King had asked sax player Ben Branch to play his favorite song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Below the balcony, a young Rev. Jackson and others were waiting to go to dinner at Rev. Dr. Samuel Billy Kyles’ house. He had come to the motel to talk to King and Ralph Abernathy before leaving for that dinner.
Ironically, the night before, Dr. King, who initially didn’t want to attend the event, came and addressed a crowd of supporters at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ where he told them, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promise land…. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
At 6 p.m., Thursday, April 4, 1968, Dr. King was shot while standing on that balcony.
It was a story, a scene, Rev. Jackson said he’ll never forget, and he shared those last memories of his mentor with 39-members of the Java Gospel Swedish Choir who had performed Saturday an hour earlier during the PUSH broadcast hour.
Addressing them inside of the Rev. Dr. Clay Evans Chapel, Jackson talked about the fight for the right to vote for African Americans, the unfair “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law he said locked up Blacks, “tuition went up and jobs went out.” But “the good news is when minorities and majorities fight back, we have the power to win.”
Asked by this reporter about his thoughts on the 48th death anniversary of Dr. King, Jackson said, “The last staff meeting we had before he was killed that Friday night, he had Rev. Abernathy call us together for an emergency meeting in Atlanta.
“Many of us who didn’t live there didn’t want to attend the meeting; so reluctantly I said, ‘yes.’ We got to the airport the next morning at 7 a.m. The plane had just left. We missed the plane…caught the 7:30 a.m. plane. We got there…about 12 of us in a room about the half size of his office.
“’He said I’ve been in a manic depression the last several days among so many issues as I fight the war (the Vietnam War). They try to make like fighting war is treason…. He said maybe I’ve done as much as I can do in 13-years.’
“I remember Andy Young saying, ‘Don’t say that. Don’t talk that way.’ He said, ‘Well, don’t say peace when there is no peace.’ We got real quiet. He said, ‘Maybe I’ll fast to the point of death.’”
They gathered around Dr. King and got into their struggle again…and then “as if he talked himself out of depression, he said, ‘We must turn a minus to a plus and go to Memphis, Washington, fight for garbage workers, go to jail and a new focus poverty and to end the war.’”
Jackson told the choir he remembers this clearly because “it was the same three moves Jesus went through…let this stuff pass from me. He was 33-years old facing imminent death with the option not to do it, and as he contemplated it and prayed the cycle slept, the bible says.
“It had to be a very powerful moment for him to look death in the face. Beyond death is eternal life…beyond the crucifixion is the resurrection that this place cannot contain me.
“When you get to that point in our lives where death loses and God wins… there is nothing that can stop us from achieving all that God meant for us to achieve,” said Jackson.
“I think about this day, and I think about how to pick up where he left off. He left off fighting war while we’ve expanded war. We’ve made voting more difficult. We expanded poverty. Too few have too much and too many don’t have enough. That’s because of greed.
“That’s not the natural order of things. What does one need with a billion dollars…to do what? You can’t stay in but so many houses…what next…$2 billion, $10 billion…this insatiable greed around mindless materialism and that is part of the tension between those gaps, what is driving this North South crisis…,” said Jackson.
Sunday, Jackson issued a press release saying, “It still hurts whenever I think of Dr. King and Memphis. He dreamed of a one-big tent America where Appalachian whites and Native Americans and Blacks and Latinos would come together and fight for a guaranteed income, a floor from beneath which no man or woman could fall.
“He dreamed that we would end the war in Vietnam and have a war on poverty. He dreamed about us living in a non-violent, civilized society. He dreamed….” Jackson said when King was shot it may have killed “the dreamer but not the dream.”
This year marks the 50th year that Dr. King chose Jackson to be the Chicago-based director of Operation Breadbasket, the economic justice division of the civil rights movement. He said, “Fifty-years later, we are still doing Dr. King’s work. We never stopped doing his work. We never stopped dreaming.”
Sara Ronnqzist, a member of the Swedish choir, said Jackson’s history lesson “was so breathtaking. I am so honored….” What struck her most was Jackson’s talking about the “struggle for rights for everyone, the inequality and discrimination…. What Jackson said is true that we are one people. Too few have too much…and that is wrong.”
Afterwards, Rev. Jackson took the entire choir to Pearl’s Place Restaurant where they ate their first soul food dinner.