CHICAGO -- On the eve of his 75th birthday, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has a lot to look back on and a lot to be thankful for. And he says a whole lot more ahead of him.
“Some of my friends who were in the struggle were killed. So I’m a survivor, I’ve been blessed to have been a long distance runner,” Jackson said.
The reverend joined the struggle for racial equality even before meeting his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“When I was 19 years old I was arrested with seven classmates trying to use a public library,” Jackson said.
“I think when I went to jail the first time, I was alive, I was born again. Something happened within me, a fire was lit, that never went out really.”
Six years later, out of a common passion for human rights, he and Dr. King formed a bond. One that would change his life forever.
“I would think that coming into contact with Dr. king was a noticeable asset to my life vision in making a better life, making a better America,” Jackson said.
He said one of his saddest moments was when Dr. King was fatally shot at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. He said he was talking with King as he was shot.
“The bullet hit his neck and severed his neck tie and there he was on the floor,” he recalls. "It was awful, I still think of it every so often."
He said another tough moment was when his eldest son, former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., was sent to federal prison for misusing campaign money.
“You have to keep playing through the pain. And try to pick up the broken pieces, move on,” Jackson said.
Jackson takes pride in his many accomplishments over the years, like running for president in 1984 and 1988. He also traveled to negotiate the release of American hostages in Syria, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Cuba.
One of the many historic moments Jackson can recall was standing in Grant Park as the newly-elected Barack Obama took the stage. Cameras captured the scene as tears streamed down Jackson’s face.
“I wished so hard for those who never got the credit for their investment of blood and time could have been there, so I wept for joy,” he said.
He said he feels similar joy now that there’s a national a spotlight on the accomplishments of black people at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, in D.C.
“That museum changes the American narrative; we are cohosts, not parasites, in making the country what it is today,” Jackson said.
When asked what he hoped his legacy to be, Jackson said he hopes people think: “I served as faithful as I could, for as long as I could to make life better for the people around me, and tried to leave an imprint in the sand of times. “