Jesse Jackson visits Franklin

Published 11:25 am Friday, September 22, 2017

The Rev. Jesse Jackson — civil rights activist, Baptist minister and former Democratic candidate for president — visited Franklin on Tuesday afternoon as part of his Healing and Rebuilding Virginia Bus Tour. Jackson addressed a large audience in the Franklin Sportsman’s Association building on South Street.

Accompanying him was Del. Roslyn Tyler (D-75th). Jackson’s press secretary, Don Terry, said the purpose of the tour was to encourage people, particularly young people, to register to vote. Jackson also preach an inclusionary message that people must learn to live together.

The reason he chose to come to Franklin was to reach some of the smaller, more rural communities in Virginia.

“He has been speaking at high schools and colleges, and has gotten 150 students to register,” Terry said.

Jackson asks the audience how many are already registered to vote by a show of hands.

Jackson opened his remarks by leading the audience in a recitation of the poem “I am Somebody” written during the 1950s by the Rev. William H. Borders Sr., a Baptist pastor and civil rights activist. Then he spoke on current social and political issues he felt the African-American community currently faces, such as access to affordable health care.

“If you put two seeds in the ground of equal strength, and you water them, and you put a wall between them, one will grow tall and the other will be stunted,” he explained allegorically. “The one in sunshine grows, the one trapped in the shadows does not.”

The pastor also condemned the use of violence during protests, citing both the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles during the early 1990s and, more recently, the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) during a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria.

“Beyond color and culture is character; how we treat each other in Franklin and in America defines us,” Jackson said. “We do not fight fire with fire, we do not fight hate with hate. We fight hate with love.

“Nobody has a right to do less than their best and expect the best. The man with a toothache should not be chewing ice. If I want medicaid and social security and justice, vote. If we want the system to work for us, we have to participate.”

Following his lecture, he took questions from the audience. One person said he had attended the March on Washington as a teenager in the 1960s and asked what role Jackson and his family had played in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Another asked Jackson whether he felt America’s system of checks and balances were working in the Trump administration.

“[President Donald] Trump is testing the system’s limits, but our government will survive,” Jackson responded.

Since Monday, Jackson has made appearances throughout Virginia, including the cities of Roanoke, Lynchburg, Hopewell and Emporia.

Following his appearance in Franklin, he traveled to Hampton Roads, where he presented at Norfolk State University, First Baptist Jefferson Park in Newport News, Hampton University, the Lackey Free Clinic in Yorktown, the town of Dumfries and the city of Arlington.