The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s speeches have moved and inspired audiences around the world for more than 50 years. Acting as editor, Professor Grace Kim has gathered many of Jackson’s most famous oratorical moments in book form for the first time.
Reset caught up with Jackson and Kim to talk about the collection, titled Keeping Hope Alive: Sermons and Speeches of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., and reflect on how Jackson’s words still resonate today.
On making selections for Keeping Hope Alive
Professor Grace Kim: The ones that we collected, they are kind of global. Rev. Jackson’s impact is not just in the U.S. or in Canada. … He has made a global impact. So we’ve gathered speeches from when he spoke in India and South Africa and England, all around the world, to give a glimpse to young students and to many older adults who remember him traveling around the world….So that’s how we kind of came up with these selections, that it was a snapshot of what he did in the country, in the U.S., and around the world.
Rev. Jesse Jackson: I didn’t want to do it, because often my speeches or sermons are spontaneous out of situations, written to be heard, not to be written. These ‘84 and ‘88 speeches, many people requested them. We put those speeches in the book. … Dr. Kim did tremendous pulling these speeches together and making sense of them.
On how the book intertwines theology and social justice
Kim: It’s very hard to separate his politics from his theology because they’re so combined together. When he speaks, he’s preaching. When he’s preaching, he’s speaking. So that’s the exciting part about the book. When we were putting it together, … he was a little hesitant because it’s really difficult for such a historic figure who is a superb speaker — to put that down and print it does really no justice.
Jackson: Theology and liberation intertwine. I would say my religion makes me political. My politics don’t make me religious. … There’s a politics to Jesus.
On how Keeping Hope Alive carries on Jackson’s legacy
Kim: It’s a living historical document. … We did a Starbucks book signing and even little kids were there. And that’s so exciting because that’s what I imagined, that children who may have never heard of an icon like Rev. Jackson can kind of sit down with their parents. And I’ve had parents who say they’re reading one page at a time with their children. It’s a history lesson. It’s a theological lesson. It’s a civil rights lesson. There’s so much in that small book.
Jackson: Leaving some legacy of print is part of my work now.
On moving the fight for civil rights forward
Kim: I think the book is so timely. … Now that it’s come out during this election year, I think that’s what makes it exciting, because … we included the ‘84 and ‘88 speeches. That was a last-minute decision because the need, the demand was there. And so I think right now people can read it, students can read it to see where we have come … and where we are today and where we need to go.
Jackson: What sustains me in these difficult times is my faith, my belief that it’s dark but the morning’s coming. It’s dark, but that light is coming. It’s not a train coming this way with sunshine, it’s hope. I look over my life, the last 60 years, I’ve seen so much progress. … Learn to live together is our challenge today.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.