Tracing the struggle for voting rights through history, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged a group gathered at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Monday to continue the fight by heading to the polls for Tuesday’s primary election.
The civil rights leader’s speech, which marked the 30th anniversary of his 1984 run for president and the 49th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., was part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series at the school.
Jackson polled the room, asking more than 300 students and professors present if they were registered to vote. In a call-and-response, the group was asked to repeat after him that anybody who admires civil rights icons but is not registered is “vulgar.”
Even after African Americans were given the right to vote, control was “put in the hands of the segregationists,” or state governments, which had previously enforced Jim Crow laws, Jackson said. Minorities found themselves further marginalized as states turned to gerrymandering and proportionality to control whose votes mattered the most.
“It’s unfinished business,” Jackson said.
“You can’t let tomorrow pass,” he said.
Vast disparities between the South and West Sides of Chicago and the North Side in terms of education, transportation, employment and access to health care are “not so subtle structural racial impediments” that keep inequality alive, Jackson said.
“When the playing field is even, we can make it . . . The playing field is not even.
“You have more votes here than some state senators have,” Jackson told the crowd after learning there are 27,000 students at UIC.
“The power you seek is in your hand.”