Nation Pays Respects to Helen Burns Jackson
Photo: John H. White
GREENVILLE, SC — Santita Jackson bathed a misty-eyed congregation at Springfield Baptist Church in the deep molasses lyrics of Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble of the World” during the Monday home-going service for her grandmother, Helen Burns Jackson, 91, mother of civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In a church founded by former slaves, Santita, the oldest daughter of the Rev. Jackson, crooned “Soon it will be dawn/Trouble of the world/Trouble of the world … I am going home to live with God,” aptly capturing the pain of losing her grandmother, known for her class, culture and two accomplished sons. As Santita sang those mournful lyrics, a certain joy filled the room in the comforting knowledge that Mrs. Jackson, “Mama Helen,” is reaping her heavenly reward.
This was the second day of celebrations of the life of Mrs. Jackson, who bore Jesse, who would one day become a two-time candidate for president and civil rights icon noted for his rhetorical style and political adeptness. More than one speaker noted his affinity for getting hostages free around the world and changing the rules of electoral politics in America, paving the way for the nation’s first Black president. Mrs. Jackson’s Grammy-winning son Charles “Chuck” Jackson was also celebrated for his music industry success, which includes putting Natalie Cole on the entertainment map with hits such as “This Will Be,” “Inseparable,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Our Love” and “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton spoke of Mrs. Jackson’s impact on his life, namely, raising a son who would light his own path toward activism and politics as a youth. Mrs. Jackson told him, “They ridiculed me when Jesse was born, but they don’t ridicule me anymore,” Sharpton recalled her saying about having a child out of wedlock at age 16.
Sharpton said he could recognize Mrs. Jackson’s positive impact when the reverend spoke openly about being born in these circumstances: “I came from a broken home,” Sharpton told the audience of about 500 onlookers. As a youth, the Rev. Jackson was the first time he met a preacher “who didn’t inherit his ministry.”
“If you grew up in the projects and didn’t know who your daddy was, you needed somebody to tell you you were somebody,” said Sharpton, recalling his mentor’s “I am somebody” mantra that won the hearts and minds of many.
Also in attendance were former President Bill Clinton, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Jackson family pastor the Rev. Clay Evans, former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley and former Rep. Cleo Fields (D-LA). President and Mrs. Obama sent a proclamation, as did bishops of several congregations, including Charles Ellis, Noel Jones and T.D. Jakes.
In recalling the Rev. Jackson’s many accomplishments, including two presidential runs and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Waters asked: “What gave him the audacity to think he could be president? Helen Burns Jackson had something to do with that.”