Jackson, Campbell Pay Homage To MLK, Franklin

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell were welcomed to Chautauqua Institution inside the Amphitheater on Friday. The stage was shared by the institution's Bishop Gene Robinson who served as the moderator. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

CHAUTAUQUA — The morning after Aretha Franklin, American singer and Queen of Soul, passed away, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Joan Brown Campbell visited Chautauqua Institution to remember Martin Luther King Jr. But before the pair began their scheduled lecture, Jackson honored Franklin’s legacy.

Prompted by moderator Bishop Gene Robinson, Jackson, who was friends with Franklin, said he spent time with her earlier in the week and, while difficult, was able to say goodbye.

“I had the chance to feel the warmth of her hand one more time and to kiss her forehead,” Jackson said of his interaction with Franklin earlier in the week.

Jackson briefly reminded the audience of Franklin’s strength, career and activist work.

The conversation was hosted in association with Chautauqua Institutions week eight theme of “The Forgotten Memory of the 21st Century” and its interfaith theme of “Not To Be Forgotten: A Focus on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He has earned much notoriety as a civil rights, religious and political figure over the last 50 years. Over that time period Jackson has been involved with peace, civil rights, empowerment, gender equality and economic and social justice movements across the world. Jackson was selected by King as the director of the Operation Breadbasket program in Chicago to improve economic conditions of black communities. Jackson also was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the years 1984 and 1988.

Campbell is the former director of religion at Chautauqua Institution – the first ever woman director – and was the first female associate executive director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches. Additionally, she was the first female to be executive director of the U.S. officer of the World Council of Churches and the first ordained female secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ.

Campbell worked extensively with King in Cleveland and also with ending apartheid in South Africa. She was awarded the 2010 Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award and authored the booked titled “Living Into Hope: A Call to Spiritual Action for Such a Time as This and Prayers From Chautauqua.

“It is indeed a pleasure to be here today on this particular day with this particular opportunity we have,” Campbell said. “For me to be, once again with Jesse. We’ve walked many walks together and it has always been, for me, a time of growth.”

Campbell joked that with her shared history with Jackson, the two know numerous secrets about each other. To that, Jackson jokingly raised his index finger in front of his mouth indicating for her to remain silent regarding the matter.

Campbell brought the conversation to a more serious topic regarding King’s impact on history and the future.

“As we take a look now at what’s before us today and what we’ve learned from yesterday and how we move ahead in a country much in need of what it is these people in the past have given to us,” she said.

Campbell told a story of King’s visit to Cleveland and his visit to a predominantly white church in which Campbell was affiliated with at the time. She said some members of the church were resistant to the idea of King visiting her church.

“The church had in it many more people who wanted (King) there than people who were fearful to have him there. They were the courageous ones,” she said.

After several months later following attempts to delay the scheduled visit, King showed up.

Campbell said because of the backlash, King was forced to speak outside on the back steps of the church instead of inside like they previously agreed. But on the day King visited the church, thousands of individuals gathered to hear him speak. The turnout was far more than anticipated or even would have been able to fit into the church, according to Campbell.

“That church was never the same again,” she said.

During Jackson’s time speaking to the audience, he covered a wide variety of topics that included memories of King, segregation, slavery and the current political climate.

Robinson asked Jackson about a Theodore Parker quote that King was quoted saying numerous times that reads, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Friday, Jackson emphasized that the metaphorical arc will not simply inevitably bend in the favor of justice.

“We must bend it, it will not bend on its own,” he said with applause from the audience.

Jackson was also asked about the current Black Lives Matter movement and the response to the movement. From Jackson’s point of view, he explained that the movement is seeking equal protection and transparency within the law.

He pondered why during NFL football games a white and black person from Buffalo can compete against a white and black person from New York City without any major issue. Jackson responded to his own inquiry citing the nature of football games’ agreed upon rules and fair playing field – an idea he believes the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting for.

Jackson also talked about a fear of society reverting back to its earlier years and ideals in American history, and subsequently reversing the growth people like King worked toward. He talked specifically about President Donald Trump and the idea of returning to a greater era of American history.

“Trump can turn the clock back, but he can not turn time back,” Jackson said. “(We’re not) going back.”