His message has inspired people across the country and world to chant “Keep hope alive” and “I am somebody.” Tonight in the Sun Dome, the man who has been called the “Conscience of the Nation” and “The Great Unifier” will try to inspire a few thousand more.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, one of America’s most prominent civil rights activists and political figures, will deliver a speech titled “Making the American Dream a Reality” at 7 p.m. The speech is sponsored by the University Lecture Series and is part of USF’s weeklong celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“What he has to say is reflected in how we look at the MLK Movement and the MLK theme,” said Samuel Wright, a USF professor of Africana Studies who oversaw the Office of Multicultural Activities’ planning of MLK week. “MLK day is not a day off, but a day on, and not just a day on, but a week on and a life on.”
Jackson is legendary for his fiery speeches, and his rallying cries have become part of the American culture.”He’s a phenomenal orator, just a tremendous public speaker,” said Wright, who first met and heard Jackson speak as a student at the University of Florida. “And he’ll be talking about something that we all want, making sure the American dream is not just a dream but a reality.”
Jackson began his activism in the 1960s as a leader of sit-ins before becoming a full-time organizer for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and running the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket, which worked to improve the economic conditions of black communities across the country. Jackson was with King in 1968 when he was assassinated.
“I respect freedom fighters,” Wright said. “Many people who take on the baton for freedom and equality sacrifice themselves to try and cure humanity.”
In 1971, Jackson founded Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), an organization that has expanded the opportunities for people of color by organizing consumer boycotts, pressuring companies to hire blacks and other minorities and supporting black-owned businesses. Thirteen years later, he founded the National Rainbow Coalition, an organization committed to the promotion of social justice.
In 1984 and 1988, Jackson ran in the Democratic primaries, and although defeated by former Vice President Walter Mondale during the ’84 campaign and Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis in ’88, his political participation paved the way for a generation of black politicians.
“He’s a path breaker,” said Susan MacManus, a USF distinguished professor of political science and News Channel 8 political analyst. “And while path breakers themselves may not win, the fact that they run for office gives others the courage to do so. I think Jesse has had a very important role in making politics a realistic and achievable goal for African Americans.”
Jackson’s speaking fee was $29,400, which was paid entirely by ULS with Activity and Service fees. The MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee and the Office of Multicultural Activities co-sponsored the event. ULS director Mike Dolinger saidhe wouldn’t be surprised if the turnout surpassed the 4,500 that attended Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s speech during last year’s spring semester.
“Jesse Jackson appeals to diverse groups of people,” Dolinger said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, bring a speaker that doesn’t appeal to just one person.”