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Rev. Jesse Jackson honored at 71st birthday

Rev. Jesse JacksGov. PQuinn during Jackson's birthday event Rainbow PUSH CoalitiHeadquarters Chicago Ill. Saturday October 6 2012. | Andrew A.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Gov. Pat Quinn during Jackson's birthday event at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Headquarters in Chicago, Ill., on Saturday, October 6, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 8, 2012 12:15PM

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s famous friends and family celebrated his 71st birthday Saturday morning at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters.

The civil rights icon, seated with Gov. Pat Quinn and retired Chicago Sun-Times columnist Stella Foster, told his admirers he wanted to spend his special day, Oct. 8, working, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his last birthday in 1968.

“I’ve always tried to spend my birthday doing something activist,” he said, urging everyone to turn out on Nov. 6 to “vote with passion.”

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.); City Treasurer Stephanie Neely; Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown; state Rep. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago), and “Mr. White Sox” Minnie Minoso joined him for the broadcast.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, a fellow champion of civil rights, sent a videotaped message calling Jackson his “inspiration” since meeting him at age 12.

“He inspired my generation in activism,” Sharpton said, “as Dr. King inspired him and his generation.”

And Stevie Wonder sang his “Happy Birthday” in a video tribute, the Rich South High School marching band, which played at the London Olympics, kept the song going as the superstar’s rendition ended.

Quinn acknowledged Jack­son’s global role, negotiating prisoner releases and smoothing disputes.

“I’m here today on behalf of 13 million people in Illinois, and people all across America and across this world to wish a happy b-day to Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. For the first 71 years are always the toughest, reverend,” Quinn quipped.

“Seventy-one years, that’s a purposeful life,” the governor said. “Rev. Jackson has devoted his life to service to others.”

One of Jackson’s daughters, Santita Jackson, sang “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Son Jonathan Jackson made himself and his father cry:

“When a father gives something to his son, both laugh. And when a son gives something to his father, both cry,” he said. “When I see you today 71 years strong, fighting, kicking, living, loving . . . and pushing on, I thank God for sparing you, for sparing us.”

U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Chicago), out on medical leave from Congress, was not at the celebration at 950 E. 50th.

The biggest applause of the day erupted at the mention of President Barack Obama, who sent a “quick note” to wish him a happy day.

Santita Jackson read from the president’s letter applauding “your lifelong commitment to reaching a more perfect union and wish you all the best in the year ahead.”

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