Newswire :  The unfulfilled power of the Black vote

 News Analysis By: Dr. Ron Daniels

 

 

Black voting protest

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – For decades I have been hammering home the point that in a low voter participation environment, the group that effectively educates, mobilizes and organizes its voters to turn-out on election day will wield power disproportionate to its numbers in the overall electorate. Put another way, a relatively small group that registers and turns out a high percentage of its potential voters will exercise greater influence than a much larger group that fails to register and turn-out a high percentage of its potential voters. This is a Daniels political axiom. And, as Frank Watkins, Advisor to Rev. Jesse Jackson puts it, “a organized minority is a political majority.” The United States has the lowest voter participation rate of any of the western democracies. I have suggested somewhat facetiously that the biggest political party in the U.S. is not the Democrats or Republicans but non-voters. A voter turn-out in this country in the range of 50-55% of the eligible electorate is hailed by political commentators as spectacular. This is absolutely abysmal when compared to western democracies where voter turn-out is routinely 80% or better. But, the reality of this low voter participation environment creates a major opportunity for Black voters to exercise power disproportionate to our numbers in the electorate. We may be out-numbered by Whites, but a large percentage of Whites don’t bother to vote. It is not by accident that Republicans are openly implementing polices to suppress or disenfranchise Black voters. They fear the Black vote. The forces of reaction realize that if Blacks maximize voter registration and mobilize/organize large voter turn-outs, it is a threat to their retrograde agenda. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has relentlessly urged Black folks to register and vote in massive numbers to maximize our political power. At a session during the recent Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, he shared data that illuminates the unfulfilled power of the Black vote. He noted that there are still 8 million Blacks who are not registered to vote, 4 million in the South. In 2016 some 2.5 million Blacks, who were registered, failed to vote in an election which was determined by less than 100,000 votes total in key battleground states with a large concentration of Black voters! Rev. Jackson’s point is that a potent key to political resistance and transformation is in Black hands, the ballot. The challenge is to organize/mobilize and turn-out the unorganized, Black people who, for whatever reason, do not believe that voting matters as a means of changing their lives. There is increasing evidence that a new generation of Black leaders, particularly women and young people, understand the potential of the Black vote as foundational to coalitions that can beat back the conservative tide of Trumpism by advancing people-centered, progressive policies. Stacey Abrams has an excellent chance to become the first Black Governor of Georgia by educating and inspiring hundreds of thousands of unregistered, “improbable” Black voters to register and turn-out in massive numbers on election day. Ben Jealous has launched a grassroots campaign to employ the same formula in Maryland. The polls in Boston showed Ayanna Pressley trailing long term Congressman Michael Capuano by 10 points among “probable” voters in the Democratic Primary. She won by more than 10 points because she organized/mobilized the unorganized; the improbable voters showed up in massive numbers as the anchor of her progressive coalition. Rev. Jackson points out that in Florida Andrew Gillum, who shocked the pundits by winning the Democratic primary for Governor, can win because there are more than 1.8 million Blacks who are eligible to register in that state coupled with more than 300,000 recently arrived Puerto Ricans who fled the Island in the wake of Hurricane Maria. When the improbable voters from these constituencies are energized to march on the ballot box, there is a very high probability that Gillum will become the first African American Governor of Florida. It is important to note that in the instances cited above, only 15 percent – 20 percent of forward-thinking White voters are needed to achieve victory. The Daniels’ Axiom applies: In a low voter participation environment, where large numbers of Whites will remain unregistered or will not vote, all that is required is for the unorganized, the improbable voters in the Black community and our allies to mobilize/organize and turn-out in massive numbers to achieve victory! So, the mandate is clear; Black leaders must devise strategies to educate, motivate, inspire and energize millions of unregistered, improbable Black voters to burst into the arena to become the cornerstone of progressive coalitions. These coalitions of the improbable have the potential to fundamentally alter the political landscape in the U.S. by ushering in an era of resistance to Trumpism and more importantly advancing progressive policies which can create a new America! Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer Emeritus, York College City University of New York. Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at info@ibw21.org

Newswire : Former NAACP President Ben Jealous facing uphill climb to become first Black Governor of Maryland

 

By Hazel Trice Edney

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Despite defeating six candidates to become the Democratic nominee for governor of Maryland, former NAACP president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, is still viewed as the underdog in his race against popular incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. “He’s got an uphill sled race,” says political scientist Dr. Wilmer Leon, also a radio talk show host. “Because the state of Maryland, by most statistics, is doing well. And Hogan has never proven himself to be a blind Republican ideologue. He’s more of a moderate Republican than he is an extreme right wing Republican. So, with that, it’s easier for Democrats to vote for him.”In somewhat of an upset, Jealous beat back six other candidates in the June 28 primary, including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, viewed as the Democratic establishment candidate. Despite this sentiment, Jealous says his “rainbow” type supporters and association with people from all walks of life is the strategy that he believes will continue to carry him to a win Nov. 6. “The strength of this campaign, like my life, begins in Black churches in the civil rights community and gains power through the connection of those communities with the broader progressive community. That’s been the arc of my life and that’s the arc of this campaign,” he said in a recent interview with the Trice Edney News Wire. “We will win in November the same way we won June 28. We will win by traveling to every corner of the state making the case to voters in every county about how we can move forward together, about how we can make sure every school is fully funded, how we can finally get health care costs truly under control, how we can make colleges and public universities truly affordable again and how we can find the money to do it is in large part by ending mass incarceration.” Jealous said, “The issues at the core of this campaign are not partisan issues. Treating the opioid addiction crisis is a health crisis. It’s a people issue. Funding education is a people issue. And then the student debt crisis is a people issue. Those are not partisan issues and people recognize that.” Though some say he is an outsider until recently, his roots run deep in Maryland, Virginia, D.C. and across the nation for that matter. Jealous is former executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation and former president/CEO of the national NAACP. But when describing his grassroots political training, he is clear about his roots. “I started off in the Rainbow Coalition. I started off as a 15-year-old precinct captain for the Rev. Jesse Jackson,” he recalls. “The strategy of that campaign is what empowered L. Doug Wilder to win the governorship in Virginia a year later. And the same strategies that worked for Wilder in Virginia and David Dinkins in New York and Harold Washington in Chicago are right at the core of this campaign.” He continues, “What we all learned in that campaign is how they won their campaigns. That’s how we won our primary and how we will win in November. We’ll build a coalition of working families across every line…There’s nothing more important to any working family than assuring that they get to move forward again.” Like Jackson, Wilder and Dinkins, Jealous is poised to also make history. If he pulls it off, he would become the first Black governor of Maryland and the fifth Black governor in the U. S. According to recent polls, the issues may not be enough. Though Maryland is heavily Democratic, Hogan reportedly has a 68 percent approval rating across party lines. Therefore, Jealous is going to have to pull out all stops, says Leon.“In the eyes of some, the NAACP is not as relevant as it used to be. Plus, Hogan is not a Trump Republican,” Leon said. “So, I think you’re going to have a lot of people going to the voting booth saying if it’s not broke don’t fix it.” However, Leon said, Jealous could win because Maryland is in fact a Democratic state. “Turn out. Turn out. Turn out” will be the key, he says. “Plus, he needs to find a way to better explain how he’s going to implement some of the policies he’s articulating because one of the knocks against him is he’s promised a lot of things and he hasn’t explained how he’s going to pay for them.” Grassroots debaters in a local barber shop recently resolved that Jealous is the most popular candidate among Black voters, but, due to apathy, the voters he will need in a close race may not come out on Election Day. This means Jealous will need his best strategies, including his broadest rainbow, plus campaign boosts from some heavy hitters. His running mate is former Maryland Democratic Party Chair Susan Turnbull, who is running for lieutenant governor. In June, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was largely credited for helping to drum up votes. Sanders has not given a full endorsement of Jealous, but has not been shy about pushing him. “I’m proud to be here because Ben is not going to be one of those leaders who is going to be nibbling around the edges, but understands we have got to transform the economic and political life of this country,” said Sen. Sanders to a cheering crowd as Jealous stood by his side June 18 just before his primary election, the Associated Press reported. Jealous is taking all the help he can get. “Bernie is a good friend. He’s a great ally to this campaign. And he has shown the Democratic Party that the people want real solutions to the pain that our families are feeling,” Jealous said. “Who runs our states matters because the road to taking back our country runs all through our states. I’m focused on making Maryland a model for how we move forward on education, health care and the economy no matter what happens in Donald Trump’s Washington.”

Poor Peoples Campaign holds Rally and March in Washington, D. C. to mark end of initial 40 days of protest and begin the next phase of ‘A National Moral Revival’

By John Zippert, Co-Publisher

Pictured John Zippert, Faya Rose Toure and Hank Sanders at
a Poor Peoples Campaign Rally

On Saturday, June 23rd thousands of people from across the nation came to the Mall in Washington D. C. for a Rally and March to mark the end of the initial phase of the revitalized Poor Peoples Campaign and plan for the future.

The Rally heard from the leaders of the Poor Peoples Campaign, those of national recognition and those who have emerged from the past three years of organizing at the grass roots level. The rally was opened with a prayer from the San Carlos Apache Nation, an indigenous group that prayed, sang and danced to a traditional drumbeat.

Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Campaign said to the assembled crowd, “You are the founding members of the 21st century Poor Peoples Campaign. This is not a commemoration of what happened 50 years ago but this is a re-inauguration of the struggle. We have had 3,000 arrested for civil disobedience in 30 state capitals over the past forty days of protest since Mothers Day. We are moving forward and if the system resists change then we will have to shut-it-down.”
Rex. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian minister and head of the Kairos Center for Peace and Justice and co-chair of the Poor Peoples Campaign said, “ We have 140 million poor and working poor people in this country and they are seeking justice and fairness in issues that affect their daily lives, access to health care, a $15 an hour minimum wage, free tuition at colleges, an end to our war economy and ecological devastation in our communities.”
There were two massive banners hanging from the stage saying ”Fight Poverty – Not Poor People” which sum up the theme of the campaign and rally to date. There were many songs including some civil rights standards but also new songs like ‘When you lift from the bottom – Everybody rises’.
There were speakers like Rev. Jesse Jackson, actor Danny Glover, Essence Magazine publisher, Susan Taylor, but there were also many new leaders and organizers of the Poor Peoples Campaign, A Call for a National Moral Revival. One of the strongest speakers was Louise Brown, who led the Charleston, South Carolina hospital workers strike 50 years ago and is still battling for workers rights.
Rev. Barber moderated a discussion by grassroots organizers in the five thematic areas of the campaign: systemic racism, systemic poverty, labor and workers rights, ecological devastation and ending the war economy and militarism.
After the speeches, more than 10,000 marched from the Mall up to the U. S. Capitol building and back. A smaller representative group from the Poor Peoples Campaign went into the capitol and brought a letter of the Campaign’s demands for every Senator and Congressperson.
About twenty people from Alabama were part of the delegation including Rev. Carolyn Foster of Greater Birmingham Ministries, who is co-chair of the state committee. More than 50 people from Alabama participated in civil disobedience during the initial 40-day campaign since mid-June. Many were present at the rally and march.
During the march, many of us walked behind a banner that attracted much attention, which said, “We are from Alabama, and we are ashamed of Attorney General Jeff Sessions”.
Riding home from the event with Alabama participants, all said they were pleased to be part of founding this new movement and ready to take part in the next steps as they are developed and implemented.
Any one seeking more information or wishing to join may go to: www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.

Bridge Crossing Jubilee to be this weekend in Selma, Alabama

The 53rd commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights” will take place in Selma from Thursday, March 1 to Sunday, March 4, 2018. This will also be the 25th anniversary of the Bridge Crossing Jubilee, featuring over 40 events to celebrate voting rights and plan for future actions to maintain and expand voting rights.
The theme of this year’s Bridge Crossing Jubilee is Many More Bridges to Cross. Most of the events being held over the four-day period are free to the public.
The initial event is the Old Fashioned Mass Meeting at Tabernacle Baptist Church on Broad Street from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Thursday, March 1, 2018. Bishop Staccato Powell of AME Zion Church is the main speaker. Tabernacle is the site of the first mass meetings of the Selma Voting Rights Struggle more than half a century ago. The Miss Jubilee Pageant for youth is also that same evening from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the School of Discovery.
On Friday, March 2, 2018, there is an Educational Summit to deal with major issues facing the education of young people, a Mock Trial on an important issue and a special rally for the “Poor People’s Campaign – A National Moral Revival” featuring Rev. William Barber. The Jubilee Golf Tournament begins early Friday morning and the day ends with a “Stomp Out the Vote” Step Show.

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, there will be a parade, the Foot Soldiers Breakfast, to honor pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement, an Intergenerational Summit, with Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Jubilee Street Festival, to be held on Water Street close to the bridge, and the Freedom Flame Awards Banquet.
On Saturday there will also be two major workshops on “Human Rights Violation is a Devastation to Our Nation” and “What Democracy Looks Like and Making Democracy Work for US”. Many speakers including Cornel West, Ruby Sales, Raymond Winbush, Anthony Browder and others will participate. These workshops will be held at the Dallas County Courthouse.
Sunday, March 4, 2018, will begin at 7:30AM with the Martin and Coretta Scott King Unity Breakfast at Wallace Community College. Kamala Harris, U. S. Senator from California will be the keynote speaker for the breakfast. She will be joined by new Alabama U. S. Senator Doug Jones, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others. After breakfast, marchers are encouraged to join church services around Selma.
At 1:30 PM Sunday, there will be a pre-march rally at the Browns Chapel Church, followed by a re-enactment of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March starting at 2:30 PM. Thousands are expected to attend and follow the original march route across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A post-march rally and other activities will be held later that afternoon.
Faya Rose Toure, organizer of the Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee said, “We invite everyone who supports and celebrates the right to vote to come to this largest annual continuing Civil Rights Celebration, but we also must rededicate ourselves to working on the next necessary steps to carry the movement for voting rights, civil rights and human rights forward!”
Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders said: “Tens of thousands come to Selma every year to be a part of these events. There is something for everyone of all ages and all backgrounds. See you in Selma!”
For more information and a detailed schedule of all events, check the website: www.BridgeCrossingJubilee.com.

Newswire : Friends, medical community weigh-In on Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Parkinson’s diagnosis

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

 

 

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                                                                   Rev. Jesse Jackson
Last week, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., 76, revealed that he has Parkinson’s Disease.
Rev. Jackson said that this all came about after family and friends noticed a change in him about three years ago, and he could no longer ignore symptoms of the chronic neurological disorder that causes movement difficulties.
Rarely do we hear about high profile members in the African American community being affected by Parkinson’s. But make no mistake, Parkinson’s disease is not a White man’s disease. Anyone can get it. One of the most high-profile African-Americans with Parkinson’s was heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali who was diagnosed in 1984 at the age of 42.
Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis caught many by surprise, but those who know him said they’re confident that he’ll overcome the life-threatening challenge before him.
“He’s in the rumble of his life, but he’s rumbled some big foes before,” said Vincent Hughes, a Democratic state senator from Pennsylvania who campaigned for Jackson in 1984 and again in 1988. Hughes said that Jackson’s campaigns were birthed in the Black empowerment movement that followed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. “I’m one of those African Americans, who took office and was a part of that issue of ‘protest to power’ and Rev. Jackson was, in many respects, our leader and he still is.”
More than anyone else, Jackson opened the door for the election of Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States, said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). Chavis was one of Jackson’s contemporaries during the Civil Rights Movement. “Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., is a living, global civil rights icon. As a colleague in the Civil Rights Movement dating back to the 1960s and under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have personally witnessed the selfless sacrifice and dedication of Rev. Jackson.”
Chavis continued: “For all who have cried out for freedom justice and equality, the news of his Parkinson’s disease should only serve to re-dedicate a movement now for healthcare equality for all, not only as a civil right, but as a human right.”
In his statement about the disease, Jackson recalled his foray into activism, being arrested on July 17, 1960 with seven other college students who advocated for the right to use a public library in his hometown of Greenville, S.C. He said that he remembers the arrest as if it happened yesterday and it was a day that forever changed his life.
“From that experience, I lost my fear of being jailed for a righteous cause. I went on to meet Dr. King and dedicate my heart and soul to the fight for justice, equality, and equal access,” said Jackson, whose multiracial National Rainbow Coalition grew out of his work in the 1984 presidential campaign.
He said he resisted interrupting his work to visit a doctor, but his daily physical struggles intensified and he could no longer ignore his symptoms. “After a battery of tests, my physicians identified the issue as Parkinson’s disease, a disease that bested my father,” Jackson said.
Rev. Al Sharpton issued a statement saying that he spent time with Jackson and his family in New York, as Jackson made the announcement of his illness. “As I watched him, I was reminded of the greatness of this man,” Sharpton said. “Reverend Jackson has changed the nation and served in ways in which he never got credit.”
Maynard Eaton, a journalist and national director of communications for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, called Jackson a legendary and fearless civil rights champion. He said the disease may slow Jackson, but won’t stop him.
“Activism and civil rights are in his blood. As a journalist, Jesse Jackson has been a treat and joy to cover and write about,” said Eaton. “He has been a civil rights darling and media maverick…Jesse Jackson is a quintessential and preeminent civil rights activist of our time.”
Even though Parkinson’s disease is a chronic neurological condition, it is very treatable, said Dr. Nabila Dahodwala, an associate professor of neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “A diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease does not necessarily mean that you must make drastic changes, but every individual is different in how they are affected, how they respond to treatment and how they choose to spend their time,” Dahodwala said.
Ihtsham ul Haq, an expert in neurology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, said he believes Jackson will do well. “Though each patient’s journey with Parkinson’s disease is a little bit different, thankfully for many the symptoms are often well-managed with medication, said Haq. “The hallmark of the disease is the slow loss of dopamine in the brain, which unlocks our movement.”
Haq continued: “As patients begin to produce less of it they show the slowness, stiffness, and tremor that typify the disease. Replacing dopamine usually substantially alleviates these problems.”
Leslie A. Chambers, the president and CEO of the American Parkinson Disease Association, said making appropriate lifestyle changes and focusing on physical therapy will go a very long way to helping Jackson live the best life possible, in spite of the disease.
“Since its a lifelong chronic illness, the American Parkinson Disease Association encourages people with Parkinson’s to seek out a top notch medical and healthcare team, which includes a movement disorders specialist physician and allied healthcare providers and protect and defend their overall health status with a nutritious diet, physical therapy and safe, effective daily exercise programs, as well as emotional and social support from family, and professional care partners-givers,” Chambers said, adding that the association extends heartfelt wishes to Jackson.
Dorothy Leavell, the chairman of the NNPA and the publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group said that even though Jackson is in for the fight of his life, she warned that Parkinson’s disease had met its match. “This is a major blow, but it’s not the death knell,” said Leavell. “We will keep working and encourage Jesse with all he’s done for us and continues to do.”

ANSC to hold Spring Convention in Montgomery on Saturday June 10

 

Doug Jones, Sue Bell Cobb and Walt Maddox

 

The Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) is holding its Spring Membership Convention on Saturday June 10, 2017 from 8:00 Am to 3:00 PM at the Wind Creek Casino, Rambling Hall on Eddie L. Tullis Road in Montgomery.
The ANSC is a progressive statewide political organization, formed in 1985-86, in the aftermath of the Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign for President to work for a “Change for the Better – in Our Lifetime” in Alabama. The ANSC’s sister organization, the Alabama New South Alliance endorses candidates running for state and local offices in Alabama.
The membership convention will have luncheon remarks by three Democratic candidates, who expressed interest in running for Governor of Alabama in 2018 – former U. S. Attorney, Doug Jones, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

After the planning and invitations went out, Governor Kay Ivey decided to hold a special election for the U. S. Senate seat, vacated by Jeff Sessions, in November of 2017. Doug Jones then decided to run for this seat. Other Democratic and Republican candidates for the U. S. Senate seat will also be introduced and have a chance to address the group.
There will be two panels in the morning for members. The first will be about strategies for voter engagement, registration, education and turnout. The second will be a group of younger members of ANSC speaking about how to interest, attract and involve younger people in community building and change activities.
Senator Hank Sanders will give a talk on the “Current Political Landscape in Alabama” to start the program. John Zippert, State President and other ANSC officers will comment and provide direction for the work of the organization.
The meeting is open to all members of ANSC and those interested in joining. The organization has active chapters around the state that will be bringing members to attend. The registration fee for the Convention, which includes breakfast and lunch, is $25.00. For more information, contact Shelley Fearson ANSC State Coordinator, at 334/262-0932 or email; ALNewSouth@aol.com.

The day that Rev. Jesse Jackson took Fidel Castro to church

 By Don Terry (NNPA Newswire Guest Contributor)

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 Rev. Jesse Jackson at memorial service for Fidel Castro in Havana

HAVANA — On the evening of December 1, six days after Fidel Castro’s death at age 90, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., stood in the pulpit of the packed First Presbyterian Church of Havana. Applause washed over him and moonlight danced on the warm waters of the nearby Caribbean.

The international human and civil rights legend from Chicago was one of only two Americans invited by the Cuban Council of Churches to speak at an ecumenical memorial service that evening for the nation’s former president. The other American was Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, a longtime advocate for social justice and the first clergywoman to lead the National Council of Churches.

Projected on the wall behind the pulpit as he spoke was a visual reminder of why Jackson is held in such high esteem by the country’s religious community: a black and white photograph, taken on June 28, 1984, of Jackson and Castro – the reverend and the revolutionary – at an event that continues to reverberate through Cuban society 32 years later, government officials and church leaders say.

On that day, Jackson pulled off a near-miracle in a daring act of citizen diplomacy and liberation theology. He took Castro to church and in doing so helped open a door to the possibility of change and increased religious freedom across the island nation of 11 million souls.

For the first time in 27 years Castro attended church. Although invited on many previous occasions over the years by Cuban and foreign church leaders, Castro always declined until Jackson persuaded Castro to accompany him to a Methodist church in Havana.

“That visit was central to the new relationship between the state and the church,” Rev. Pablo Oden Marichal, an Episcopal priest and member of Cuban’s National Assembly, who was at the church that day in 1984, said during Jackson’s recent trip to Cuban. “From that circumstance a new relationship with the church and the government started. And Rev. Jesse Jackson was at the center of it.”

While there remains much work to be done, that day was the beginning of a thaw in the icy — often repressive — relationship between the Cuban government and the country’s religious community. Cuba was officially an atheist state and “believers” like Rev. Marichal were barred from serving in the government. Slowly, that began to change after the two leaders walked into church together, joking and laughing when Jackson asked Castro, who was dressed in his green army fatigues, to take off his hat and remove his cigar before entering the sanctuary.

“I want to remind you in these very brief remarks,” Castro told the crowded church that day, “of the very profound impression that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has made on all of us, because of his honesty, his talent, his sincerity, his honor, and the profound passion with which he fights for peace and friendship…And I consider him an extraordinary spokesman of the highest ideas of Christian thought.”

It was Jackson’s first trip to Cuba; his first meeting with Castro. At the time, Jackson was running for President of the United States and arrived in Havana with a delegation of clergy and scholars, dozens of Secret Service agents and even more reporters and television news camera crews.

Cuba was the third stop on Jackson’s four-nation fact-finding and peace-making tour of Central America. The drums of war were echoing through much of Latin America. Right-wing death squads were murdering peasants, priests and nuns. Cuba was in the crosshairs of the Reagan Administration, which accused the Castro government of exporting arms and rebellion from El Salvador to Southern Africa. Any talk of ending the crippling trade embargo against Cuba and normalizing relations was laughed at in Washington.

At a news conference upon his arrival, Jackson said that he was “hopeful that our visit to the island will help break the cycle of misunderstanding and bring our people and our governments closer together so that we can begin to relate to each other as the neighbors that we are.”

He had reason to be confident. A few months earlier, Jackson had pulled off his first near-miracle of the campaign season. No one believed he could do it, but he negotiated the release of an American Navy pilot, Lt. Robert Goodman, shot down over Syria and brought him home. Yet, Washington insiders told Jackson he was naïve and should not waste with his breath talking to Castro about setting captives free.

The two men talked for eight hours. By the time they were finished, Castro had agreed to send home 22 Americans imprisoned in Cuba, mostly on drug charges. He also agreed to release and fly to Miami 26 Cubans, some of whom had been in prison for 20 years. The United States referred to the newly released Cubans as political prisoners. The Castro government called them terrorists and enemies of the state. Jackson simply called them free.

Castro wanted something from Jackson during the trip. He asked Jackson to join him in speaking to 4,000 students at a local university. Jackson agreed. Then, as he told the congregation at the recent Havana memorial service, he asked Castro “point blank” why he did not go to church.

Castro told Jackson that he grew up in the Catholic Church and loved it. He took to heart the teachings about defending the poor and weak. But when he came down out of the mountains after defeating dictator, Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he was shocked to find, Jackson said at the memorial service, “priests in the courtyards with guns, aiming at us, defending the graveyards of the rich.”

Castro was bitterly disappointed and angry. He thought about burning the churches down. Instead, he turned his back and stayed away. “I reminded Fidel of minsters who preach and practice the theology of liberation,” Jackson said, “ministers and visionaries like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I told him, ‘That’s the church of your dreams, so don’t give up on the church.’”

The next day, Castro accompanied Jackson to the Methodist church where an ecumenical group, including various Cuban clergy and a delegation of African American ministers from the National Council of Churches and the Black Theology Project, was holding a service and meeting to study and commemorate the work of Dr. King and liberation theology.

“Nobody knew Fidel was coming,” said Dr. Benjamin Chavis, a longtime civil rights activist and former head of the NAACP, who is now president of National Newspaper Publishers Association. “It was an exciting moment. Everybody stood up and clapped. The Cuban people were overjoyed. They were glad to see their leader coming to church.”

Chavis was there that day. He appears in the photograph of Jackson and Castro taken at the church. Chavis is standing next to Castro on the right, preparing to introduce the Cuban leader. “We all knew we were not only witnessing history, we were participating in history,” Chavis said. “I’ve thought about that day a lot since then. It was inspirational.”

Five months later, Castro and religious leaders sat down for the first of what became a regular series of meetings of the government and the Council of Churches. The first meeting was supposed to last about an hour. It went on for six, Marichal, the Episcopal priest, said. The church leaders outlined “the many cases of discrimination” against “believers in the country.” Believers could not serve in the government. They could not build new churches. “We came to Fidel,” Marichal said, “to ask him to stop it.”

It took six years of constant talk and work, but eventually, in the early 1990s, believers were allowed to serve in the government. In 1992, Cuba officially became a secular state. Six years later the Pope visited Cuba for the first time. “Religious freedom in Cuba is tolerated far more than people think,” an American official at the U.S. Embassy in Havana told Jackson on his recent trip to the island. Building new churches, however, remains difficult.