The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. went on the offensive Sunday at the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Oxon Hill, Maryland, where he told a sanctuary full of millennials and others that the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is far from over.

Belying his recent disclosure that he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the civil rights icon looked and sounded strong while making the case that not even President Trump can reverse all the gains African Americans have made in this country.

“When I saw the big bad football game between Georgia and Alabama, the press just mentioned who organized it and I said, ‘Dr. King organize that game,’” Jackson said. “[George] Wallace blocked the school door, he didn’t organize it. … It would have been illegal to play together or stay together. Our struggle made the new South possible. Michael Jordan couldn’t have gone to North Carolina. … Bo Jackson couldn’t have gone to Auburn. Our struggle made the new South possible.”

Jackson was referring to June 11, 1963, when, as Alabama governor, Wallace blocked the entrance to a school to prevent it from being integrated.

He later said that in Alabama elected a Democratic senator in November because Blacks went to the polls and voted.

“One our of every third person that voted was black,” he said.

Jackson told Pastor Grainger Browning and his congregation that he isn’t worried about his health, saying that he takes medication several times a day and has increased his exercise routine, but “faith is the strongest medicine.”

“I am not worried about the Parkinson’s situation is because I have seen a lot in my life,” he said. “I went to jail when I was 19. … I saw Mandela come out of jail. I saw the Japanese rebound from being bombed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I saw the Great Wall of China.

“I have seen a lot in my life and time and in all that I have seen, I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread,” said Jackson as his voice grew louder. “Job said, ‘Though you slay me yet when I trust you. I know that my redeemer liveth.’ There is nothing too hard for God.’”

Jackson concluded his sermon by coming down to the altar where many young people had gathered and hugging each one of them.

Following the service, Jackson met with the Howard University students and other children at a press conference.

“Our challenge today is to deal with the Trump era,” Jackson said. “Trump has vowed to unravel everything that Dr. King bound and everything that Barack [Obama] bound. What would [King] do today? Number one, he would not exchange nastiness. put out fire with water, put out hate with love. It would not be a tweeting contest.”

Jackson said exercising one’s right to vote remains of upmost importance.

“We have seen God do so many marvelous things in the past when we didn’t have the right to vote. Now we have power,” he said. “In the Virginia race, one out of every votes was an African-American, in Alabama one out of every three votes was African-American … and across the South there are 4 million Black voters unregistered.

“People should vote their interest,” Jackson said.

Ebenezer officials said the church sends a bus to Howard University every Sunday to bring the students back for worship and a meal. But this Sunday, they got a extra lesson from Jackson.

“Dr. King would have us do mass nonviolent direct action — mass marchers as the women did last week, mass voting for children’s health, mass voting for the right to vote, mass voting to end violence,” Jackson said. “Mass voting to bring people together to end of the hatred and the bitterness.”

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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