Interview with Jesse Jackson

OK, Give me some feeling for Resurrection City. That was sort of like an early Rainbow experience. What was it like with all those different kinds of people? REV.


Well, the context of it is the Saturday morning before Dr. King was assassinated, he called this emergency staff meeting at his office in Atlanta, Georgia. He had this vision we should wipe out poverty, ignorance and disease, that you couldn't do it on an ethnic basis. That was not, that was never going to be in the plan to wipe out Black poverty that would leave the Hispanics in poverty or Whites or women in poverty or Native American in poverty, so we had poor people together and on this Saturday morning he said, I've had a migraine headache for three days and sometime because our movement is divided I feel like turning around, just quitting or maybe becoming president of Morehouse College. Andy Young said, Dr. King don't talk that way. He said, "and, don't say peace, peace when there is no peace." Let me finish. He said, but, I, I can't turn around. People like DuBois and Frederick Douglas and, and Mary McCloud Bethune, they wouldn't let me turn back. He said, but then, I thought about fasting, maybe to the point of death, and even though Stokely and Rap and, and, Whitman, Roy may have different points of view on, on strategy, we're still friends. At the point of death they would come to my bedside, we could reunite. And then he said, as if something struck him, but, but we will always be able to turn a minus into a plus. We can turn a stumbling block to a steppingstone. Sometimes my works feel to be in vain but then the holy spirit comes, I'm revived again. He preached himself out of the depression. He said, let us move on from there to Memphis. He was killed on April the 4th. The struggle had to continue. We were going toward Resurrection City, Renewal City, well Dr. King was killed April 4th. Robert Kennedy killed June the 5th. The sense that the White House had abandoned us and our leaders were dead. And I remember on this particular morning coming to Resurrection City and Dr. Abernathy appointed me mayor of Resurrection City and so there was the mayor of Washington city, not too far from the White House, and I looked in the faces of the people, mostly women and children and I had nothing to offer them, no money and they had eyes for the scene and no money even to get back home. And I remember having read a book by Dr. Howard Thurman, "Jesus and the Disinherited" and he talked about when you're down to your irreducible essence and you have nothing, yes, no material thing. You have your person. You're still somebody. You're God's child. And I said to them repeat these words, say I am. And they said, I am somebody. I may be poor. I may be unemployed. I may be unskilled but I am somebody. Respect me. Protect me. Never neglect me. The whole I am somebody, came out of that context in Resurrection City. The next day we, We had to march for some food. So, we decided to march to the Agriculture Department because we were putting focus on, on feeding and, and nutrition. So, we went and took a couple hundred people there and, and we had been eating of the cans and the like down at Resurrection City, raining, in the mud and good, good food in the Agriculture Department**. So, we got through, they were very nervous because we were there and the cameras were there. I said, well we, thank you very much. They said, But, whose going to pay us? I said, Well, I tell you what, you should submit us a bill between what you owe us and what we owe you, we'll pay the difference. The guy said, No, you're crazy. He said, This is not the Agriculture Department, this is a private service. I said, We've come to the Agriculture Department to eat and count up what you owe us and what we owe you. Dr. King had preached his 1963 speech about, about a balanced check. And so we left. They wouldn't arrest all of us but the next day they did make Dr. Abernathy force us to pay for the meal. but that was the context of that meal.