On Aug. 14, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. was scheduled to be sentenced to prison in connection with using campaign funds for personal use. Dozens of letters were sent to the judge on his behalf, but none more touching than the one written by his mother, dated May 28.
She began by noting, “I am Jacqueline Jackson, the mother of five children, one of whom I am writing about, my son Jesse Jackson, Jr.”
Her letter shed light not only on her son’s problems growing up in his famous father’s shadow, but provided a peek into the family’s early struggles.
“…My husband was granted a Rockefeller Scholarship to attend Chicago Theological Seminary. With a family of almost three in 1964, we arrived at McGifford House on Woodlawn Avenue in Chicago. By the time my son was born, my husband was attending school and organizing the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (K.O.C.O) and was its first Executive Director (an unsalaried position),” Mrs. Jackson wrote. “Because of the success of this organization, and based on the recommendation of Rev. James Bevel, my husband was hired to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for $75. If my memory serves me correctly, that was his weekly salary. To sustain our family, we were given food baskets by our Pastor, Rev. Clay Evans and the members of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, where my son Jesse Jr. chose later to be baptized. I learned to provide the other necessities by frequenting resale shops, lawn sales, learning to preserve and can foods, and sewing and mending things that did not fit. But most of all, I learned to express my appreciation and gratitude for the kindness of others.”
Just as her family struggled in the early stages, so did Jesse, Jr., Mrs. Jackson wrote.
“Contrary to the belief of many who only see us as we are today from a televised perspective, Jesse Jr., was not born with a silver spoon nor was he born privileged. Jesse Jr., my second child and my eldest son, was born during the turbulent sixties, the period of terrible hatred for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who followed Dr. King and the principles of non-violence he espoused. Our son, Rev. Jackson’s namesake, inherited his friends and enemies. As a child, Jesse Jr. held jobs waiting tables, cleaning floors and other odd jobs. Growing up in the shadow of his father, Jesse Jr. has always tried desperately to live up to the expectations we have had for him. I think perhaps too hard, he has tried.”
And she recalled that Jesse, Jr. was not always successful.
She wrote, “I recall how disappointed Jesse Jr. was when he discovered he could not enter high school without repeating the 9th grade. My husband finally convinced him to accept this as his challenge. Rev. Jackson said, ‘Sometimes you must go down to come up’ and Jesse Jr. prevailed. He completed his undergraduate studies in three years, received a Juris Doctor degree and received his Master’s degree in Theology. His passion for the word of God led me to believe and hope he would find his niche in Theology. However, he chose public service, the United States Congress, and we are proud of his choice and the good he accomplished during his 17 years of perfect attendance and sterling voting record.”
She recalled when Jesse Jr.’s illness was made painfully clear to her.
“I received a call from my daughter Santita, who requested that I check on Jesse Jr. because she was concerned for him,” Mrs. Jackson recounted. “Sometime during the last weeks of June 2012. I did as she requested, and found my son grossly underweight and in poor health. He asked that I take him to the office because he had an upcoming vote. When I took him to his Capitol Hill office to prepare for the vote, the office was in total disarray, which was most unusual for my son. A security guard approached me and said, ‘Please take care of Jesse.
Last week he collapsed on the floor of the House and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.’ My heart sank. No one had shared with me my son’s condition. I called my husband. We told our son to ‘come with us. We are going to get help for you.’ He did not offer any resistance which made us know his condition was dire.
Everything that has happened since that day is public record. My son is much better now.”
She closed her letter with this paragraph: “My mother says, ‘there is always some good in all things.’ There was a transforming moment during the horrific trial experience. As my son Jesse Jr. faced the judge, he turned around to look for his father’s support just as he did when he had to repeat the 9th grade. His lips shaped the words, ‘I love you and I am so sorry.’ I shall never forget that moment because my heart leapt. I then realized the joy and love that sustains all mothers. I love my son. May God guide your decision.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.)