The Reverend Jesse Jackson was born in Greenville, South Carolina, but folks in these parts claim him as a native son because he graduated from North Carolina A&T State University. In fact, Jackson will tell you that he found himself at A&T, where he was a star football player, student body president, and leader of a movement to integrate public facilities and businesses in Greensboro.
Jackson went to work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 and in 1967 took over the Chicago-based “Operation Bread Basket”, where he was successful in persuading area companies to hire minorities. He became an ordained minister following Dr. King’s assassination, then founded Operation P.U.S.H. (People United to Serve Humanity) in 1971. He organized the Rainbow Coalition in 1984 and merged the two groups in 1996. Rev. Jackson ran for President in 1984 and 1988, and over the years he has been instrumental in freeing scores of hostages from foreign adversaries.
Earlier this month, Rev. Jackson was in Greensboro to deliver the Baccalaureate address at Bennett College, and, thanks to some creative wrangling by Bennett President Phyllis Dawkins, we were fortunate to have Jackson visit the abc45 studio, where I taped an extended interview with him for “Triad Today”. On that day, Rev. Jackson was greeted like a rock star by a large, enthusiastic and mostly female studio audience. He stopped to shake hands and have photos taken with everyone, and gave my wife Pam a big hug before ascending to the stage. I asked him, “What is it with you and women?” “We have an understanding,” he replied with a smile.
Age (Jackson is 76) and Parkinson’s have slowed his stride and softened his once-booming voice, but his words are still filled with the fervor of a man on a mission of economic empowerment and racial unity. During our 25 minute conversation, Rev. Jackson talked about his early days at A&T, working with Dr. King, his two runs for the Presidency, gun violence, racial profiling, social media and Donald Trump. The “Triad Today” special airs this Sunday night. Here are some highlights.
JL: You played football, baseball, and basketball in high school. Which was your favorite?
JJ: Football ultimately because that’s how I got my scholarship.
JL: But which sport were you better at?
JJ: Maybe baseball, but football was my meal ticket.
JL: Everyone knows about the Greensboro Four who staged the first lunch counter sit-in, but folks forget that it was you who organized “wade-ins” at all-white swimming pools, “Watch-ins” at segregated movie theatres, and more.
JJ: The real deal was when the four brothers made that gallant step, but then the Bennett women sustained it. They showed the strength and courage to follow through.
JL: Dr. King was sort of like a father to you. What did you learn from him?
JJ: Strong minds bring strong change. You have to study diligently and study every day, and pray fervently and have the courage of your convictions.
JL: You did well in the 1984 and 1988 primaries, but didn’t win the nomination. Why didn’t you run as an independent?
JJ: I was trying to honor the system. We wanted to expand the base of Democrats at that time. One of my concerns then and now is that people must run for change, not just run for themselves.
This interview was is shared with permission. The original can be found at yesweekly.com/jesse-jackson-to-guest-on-triad-today/.