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Civil rights icon shares message of unity, voter engagement

March 02, 2018

Contact:  Michael Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Rev. Jesse Jackson at podium in the Tuskegee University Chapel
Rev. Jesse Jackson addressing the audience at the Tuskegee University Chapel

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., one of the most well-known architects of our nation’s civil rights movement, brought a message of empowerment and engaged citizenship to the Tuskegee University campus on Thursday, Mar. 1.

Referred to frequently as “The Conscience of the Nation” and “The Great Unifier,” Jackson has engaged the world through a global crusade spanning five decades by advocating for peace, civil rights, empowerment, gender equality, and economic and social justice.

Interim President Charlotte P. Morris, when introducing Jackson to a crowd of nearly 300 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members, called him a friend to Tuskegee University, to higher education, and to HBCUs throughout the country.

Jackson’s message included references to the struggles of the civil rights movement, as well as recognition of the civil rights “greats” of present, including famed Tuskegee attorney Fred Gray. He spoke passionately about how, as a people, we should all come together instead of living in isolation.

“All of us are God’s children [and should be] measured by our worth,” he said along with challenging the nation’s leaders to tear down walls dividing us instead of erecting them between our nation and its geographic neighbors.

In the wake of recent school-related mass shootings, Jackson spoke on how gun violence is threating our children’s education and tearing communities apart. He condemned the violence in the media and the rhetoric that has made guns and assault rifles commonplace by saying, “We must ban assault weapons now” — a sentiment met with a rousing ovation from the crowd.

Today, Jackson remains committed to promoting voter registration and leading get-out-the-vote campaigns, believing that everyone should be responsible, informed and active voters. He concluded his remarks by emphasizing the importance that everyone — especially African-Americans — should be more engaged in the democratic process by casting their votes in the election of local, state and national leaders. As he spoke of the need for everyone of voting age to register and exercise their civic duty, more than 50 members of the audience heeded his call to register to vote at the event.

Jackson’s visit to Tuskegee was part of several statewide visits to college and high school campuses — culminating with his participation in the commemorative “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma.

Jackson, the founder and current president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is known the world over as one of the foremost civil rights, religious and political figures of our time. Since the 1960s, Jackson has challenged America to be inclusive and to establish just and humane priorities for the benefit of all. He is known for bringing people together on common ground across lines of race, faith, gender, culture and class. His advocacy on the most pressing social and equality issues of our day has helped bring the American public to a new level of consciousness.

After serving as a full-time organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and directing the Operation Breadbasket program at the request of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson founded Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) in Chicago in 1971 with the goal of economic empowerment and expanding educational, business and employment opportunities for the disadvantaged and people of color. In 1984, he founded the National Rainbow Coalition, a social justice organization based in Washington, D.C., and devoted to political empowerment education and changing public policy. In 1996, the Rainbow Coalition and Operation PUSH merged to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to maximize the resources and impact of both organizations.

In 1991, Washington, D.C., voters elected Rev. Jackson as their representative to the U.S. Senate, where he advocated for statehood for the nation’s capital and advanced the “rainbow” agenda at the national and international levels. His two presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988 broke new ground in U.S. politics, as well as bolstered the election of hundreds of state and local elected officials and the 1996 shift in party control of the U.S. Senate.

Jackson has continued to be a leading advocate for a variety of public policy issues, including universal health care, equal administration of justice in all communities, sufficient funding for the enforcement of civil rights laws, and increased attention to business investment in underserved domestic communities. A hallmark of Jackson’s work has been his commitment to youth. For more than four decades, he has visited thousands of American high schools, colleges, universities and correctional facilities encouraging excellence, inspiring hope and challenging young people to study diligently and stay drug-free.

© 2018, Tuskegee University