Memphis City Councilman Edmund Ford Jr. has an exchange with CME Bishop Henry Williamson Sr., presiding prelate for the First Episcopal District of the CME Church, during the community town hall forum at Mt. Pisgah CME Church at 2490 Park Ave. The Rev. Jesse Jackson participated in the forum during a weekend of activity in Memphis. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

by Emmanuel Freeman
TSU News Service

NASHVILLE – The Rev. Jesse Jackson, renowned civil rights and social justice crusader, discussed voter registration, education, poverty and the commemoration of Black History Month during a forum at Tennessee State University on Tuesday.

TSU President Glenda Glover organized the forum, dubbed “A conversation with Civil Rights Icon Rev. Jesse Jackson.”

Jackson is making stops and holding discussions in Tennessee as part of efforts leading to the upcoming commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jackson, 76, was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when King was shot on April 4, 1968.

Lamenting that four million blacks in the Deep South are not registered to vote, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told TSU students, “You must register to vote.” Photo: (John Cross, TSU Media Relations)

Before coming to Nashville, Jackson made several stops in Memphis, including a “community town hall forum” at Mt. Pisgah CME Church, followed by “special greetings” at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. He also toured the Collins Chapel Connectional Hospital, a historic center where African Americans could get treatment during the segregation era. The hospital is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation.

“It is always a treat to have an iconic figure like Rev. Jackson to come to our campus, especially during Black History Month,” Glover said, welcoming Jackson. “We are just pleased and honored to have him on our campus.”

Asking students, faculty, staff, administrators and visitors in a packed Forum to chant his famous “keep hope alive” line, Jackson said he was concerned about the direction of the nation.

“What are you doing today to extend Dr. King’s legacy as we celebrate Black History Month,” he asked. “Making education more affordable, breaking the poverty level among our people, and providing them more opportunities seem farther away every day.”

He said too few have too much and too many do not have much.

“Dr. King was about lifting African Americans out of poverty, but I am sorry to say that today 44 percent of all African Americans make less than $15 an hour. Black institutions like TSU have been the bedrock of education for blacks, but most survive on the whims of politics. That is not fair,” Jackson said.

To even the playing field, he said, the ballot box is the answer.

“You must register to vote,” he said, lamenting that four million blacks in the Deep South are not registered to vote. “Another 2.2 million who are registered did not vote in the last election.”

Jackson’s message on voter registration and Dr. King’s legacy seemed to resonate with English major Wesley Reed-Walton of Chicago.

“It is just great to see someone who actually knew Dr. King,” Reed-Walton said. “I’m 22, so the only thing I know about Dr. King is what I’ve learned. So seeing someone that was this close to Dr. King is a humbling experience.”

Bryan Mack of Washington, D.C., a junior architectural engineering and interior design major, agreed.

“I’m ecstatic,” Mack said. “I think this is good for us because we need to listen to someone who’s seen and been through it, to give us that motivation. Because right now, we’re really in a generation where we’re coasting. That flame needs to be lit underneath us. And I feel like this is the perfect time for that.”

“Every student should be registered to vote,” Jackson urged the students.

He said President Trump is calling for a military parade when 23,000 soldiers are on food stamps.

“That is disgraceful. You can change that by voting,” Jackson said.

Before leaving, Jackson, a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, was honored by members of the Greek organization. One member, Brandon Van Leer, a senior graphic design major from Nashville, presented Jackson with a portrait of himself.

Later, Dr. Glover hosted a reception for Jackson at her.