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Rev. Jesse Jackson calls his mother 'my great source of inspiration'

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his mother, Helen Jackson. | photo from Rev. Jackson's Twitter account

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s mother died Monday — a passing her son described as a loss not only for himself and his family but also for her many friends in her longtime hometown of Greenville, South Carolina.

Helen Jackson was 91.

“I was very close to my mother. She was my great source of inspiration,” Jackson said. “She was a vigorous woman. Very community oriented. Very involved in church work.”

A highly regarded singer, Mrs. Jackson could have attended college on a music scholarship, Jackson said. But she became pregnant with him as a teen and sacrificed her education to support him.

Eventually, she became a cosmetologist, opening a beauty shop in Greenville. And she still put her voice to good use, singing in her church choir, her son said.

Mrs. Jackson also opened her door to people she knew were less fortunate than her.

“She enabled a lot of people who couldn’t read and write to get their Social Security” benefits, Jackson said. “People sent her their papers, and she [also] would go to their houses” to help them.

Born Helen Burns, Mrs. Jackson had a relationship with her married neighbor, Noah L. Robinson, which led to her teen pregnancy.

About two years after Jesse Jackson was born in 1941, she married Charles H. Jackson, a postal maintenance worker who years later would adopt the future civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate. Jesse Jackson has said that he considers both of the men, each now deceased, fathers.

Mrs. Jackson had another child with Charles Jackson, Jesse Jackson’s younger brother, Charles “Chuck” Jackson, who would go on to become a member of the R&B group The Independents and write songs for musicians including Natalie Cole.

“He got his musicianship from my mother,” Jackson said of his brother.

Jackson often spoke of his mother’s sacrifices for him in public appearances. She was on stage with him at the Democratic National Convention in 1988 when Jackson was a contender in Democratic presidential primary but lost to Michael Dukakis.

She’d fallen seriously ill in the past two weeks, with Jackson returning to Greenville to be at her bedside. She died about 9:30 a.m. Monday at Greenville Memorial Hospital.

A memorial service is planned for Sunday at Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville. A funeral service is planned for the next day, Jackson said.