'Fighter for freedom': Kamala Harris praises Rev. Jesse Jackson's legacy
Vice President Harris said that when she was in law school in the 1980s, she had a ‘Jesse Jackson for President’ bumper sticker on her car.
Vice President Kamala Harris during a Sunday afternoon trip to Chicago celebrated the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the day he officially stepped down as president of the organization he founded, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and formally named his successor.
“Today we celebrate one of America’s greatest patriots, someone who deeply believes in the promise of our country, a fighter for freedom and human rights for all people,” Harris said.
“At the core of Rev’s work is the belief that the diversity of our nation is not a weakness or an afterthought, but instead, our greatest strength.”
But gains that Jackson, 81, and other civil rights leaders fought for are “under full-on attack by extremist so-called leaders,” Harris said.
“These extremists have an agenda, an agenda to divide us as a nation, an agenda to attack the importance of diversity and equity and inclusion and the unity of the Rainbow Coalition,” Harris said.
Harris specifically referred to U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down long-held reproductive rights, affirmative action, voting rights and student debt relief, coming as the “extremist leaders” seek book bans and oppose “reasonable gun safety laws.”
The Harris tribute to Jackson came on the closing day of the annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention at the Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave. in Woodlawn, not far from the headquarters of the national civil rights organization.
On Sunday morning, President Joe Biden said in a statement that Jackson was “unafraid of the work to redeem the soul of the nation.”
“The promise of America is that we are all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives,” Biden said. “While we’ve never fully lived up to that promise, we’ve never fully walked away from it because of extraordinary leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.”
Harris, the first female vice president and the first vice president of color, said trailblazing by Jackson, who ran for president in Democratic primaries in 1984 and 1988, paved the path for her and for the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, whose political career was launched on Chicago’s South Side.
At the core of Jackson’s work, Harris said, was his belief that the nation’s diversity is a strength rather than an afterthought or weakness, noting that the multiracial “Rainbow Coalition” he built during his two presidential runs would remain central to his activism in the decades that followed.
Jackson, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017, entered the stage on a wheelchair and opened his remarks with his signature call and response: “I Am — Somebody.”
Leaning on the lectern, his voice at times difficult to understand, Jackson’s remarks were brief and recounted several anecdotes from his career.
Jackson’s civil rights activism spans 60 years. On Sunday, he passed the baton to the Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.
His mentor, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., founded Operation Breadbasket, a Southern Christian Leadership Conference initiative, and picked Jackson to lead the Chicago chapter.
Jackson would go on to create his own organizations, eventually merging them to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Jackson said that although he is stepping down as president, he intends to remain active.
“I am not retiring, I am pivoting,” Jackson said.
Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Ill., a freshman in Congress, introduced Harris and reflected on his father’s legacy, citing his influence on electoral politics as well as the civil rights movement.
“Let the marchers march, that’s our tradition,” he said. “Let the protestors protest … but don’t you ever underestimate the value and the importance of the people that we send to the table.”
Harris — who said she recently hosted Jonathan Jackson at a dinner at her home — recalled commuting to law school from her home in Oakland in the 1980s and hearing honks from other drivers responding to her “Jesse Jackson for President” bumper sticker on her Toyota Corolla.
As Harris took a seat on the dais next to Jackson, his daughter, Santita Jackson, sang a gospel medley. Harris, in her remarks, recalled the two were classmates together at Howard University in Washington.
Haynes delivered a rousing sermon as a tribute to his predecessor.
“I stand here on his shoulders, because no one with sense would try to stand in his shoes. His shoes are too large. They’ve taken us so far,” Haynes said, listing the stops on Jackson’s journey as an activist risking arrest in his hometown of Greenville, S.C., to the South Side of Chicago, to visits as an emissary of the U.S. across the globe.
“He’s been right there speaking truth to power, empowering the powerless.”
Contributing: Andy Grimm