Rev. Jesse Jackson on 1963: ‘We kept on marching’
BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporter August 22, 2013 8:14PM
The Rev. Jesse Jackson | Kris Connor~Getty Images
Updated: September 24, 2013 6:29AM
Before that smoldering summer day when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his game-changing “I Have a Dream” speech to a rainbow crowd of 250,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Jesse Jackson was just entering history’s trajectory.
He had committed to the marriage of civil rights activism and jail three years earlier.
And as a young man completing his junior year at North Carolina A&T State University, Jackson had written to President John F. Kennedy, pledging his support as a loyal Democrat.
“Aug. 28, 1963, was a political event,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson recalled this week, reached in Washington, D.C., where bastions of the civil rights movement prepared for events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington — a defining moment of the ’60s movement.
On Saturday, tens of thousands are expected to attend the “National Action to Realize the Dream March” on the National Mall. The closing event will be on Aug. 28, where President Barack Obama is expected to speak on the same steps from which King gave his famous speech.
In his first civil rights action, on July 17, 1960, Jackson joined seven other youths and entered the “whites only” public library in Greenville, S.C., refusing to leave. The library chucked formal segregation two months later.
Months before the 1963 march, Jackson briefly detoured his work with activists and attempted to work with elected officials. He wrote to the president.
“I thank you for the stern, deliberate and mature judgment you have reflected in the face of historical crises,” Jackson wrote in the March 13, 1963, letter, which is now in the archives of the JFK Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.
“In that I am from South Carolina, I have felt some of the immediate effects of your program. I am grateful. As an advocate of your administration, I am concerned with its longevity,” Jackson wrote, almost prophetically.
“What can I do to help your administration in South Carolina and North Carolina? What can I do to help your program in Negro colleges? How can I be a better Democrat?” Jackson concluded in the letter.
JFK’s special assistant, Ralph A. Dungan, wrote back.
“The President has asked me to convey to you his warm thanks for your letter and for the sentiments which you express. Your words of confidence and support are most encouraging, and he is also grateful for your willingness to be of service,” Dungan wrote. “In this connection, I am sending you releases which outline some of the directions this service might take.”
Those directions did not include Jackson going on to lead other sit-ins in Greenville, N.C., which led to his arrest on June 5, 1963. Seven days later, civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Miss.
And three months after the March on Washington, Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22 in Dallas.
“That was a huge year of assassinations and killings, a season of pulling down walls and changing the South. Through blood and tears and jail cells and graveyards, we kept on marching,” Jackson recounted.