The 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be observed at Morgan State University’s winter commencement on Dec. 18, and—fittingly—civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. will offer the keynote address.
Nearly 370 graduates will cross the stage at Talmadge Hill Field House on Morgan’s campus, receiving their reward for years of study. Undoubtedly, however, Jackson’s speech will be the high point of the ceremony.
An accomplished orator and two-time presidential candidate, Jackson has a storied history that is a source of inspiration for many. But it is his work as a human and civil rights activist, including his tireless advocacy for legislation such as the Voting Rights Act, that makes him so renowned.
“Fifty years ago, this important legislation made it possible for all people in this country, particularly African Americans, to exercise their right to vote, many for the first time,” said Morgan President David Wilson in a statement. “And as we pause to celebrate the 50 years since enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we are fortunate that our students are able to share in this milestone with one of the nation’s long-time champions of civil rights.
“Rev. Jackson’s messages of hope and inspiration are appropriate at this time in America’s history and for these young people who are celebrating the launch of a new chapter in their lives,” Wilson added.
Jackson founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) in Chicago in 1971 as an engine of economic empowerment and self-help for the Black community, according to Biography.com. The group became more encompassing in 1996 when it merged with Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition, which lobbied for equal rights for women and homosexuals in addition to African-Americans.
Since the 1970s Jackson has also traveled internationally to places like South Africa, Haiti and the Middle East to act as a mediator and to highlight pressing human rights issues. And, more recently, he has been an outspoken voice on the issue of police violence and poverty within the Black community in Chicago.
“While a lot of focus is on policing, development is the answer,” Jackson told CNN on Dec.11. “There are more jobs to be had in the ghetto than there are people.”
In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton awarded Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one among several honors. And at Morgan’s graduation services he will receive another: He and Autherine Lucy Foster, who helped to desegregate the University of Alabama will receive honorary degrees.
The university will confer its highest honor—the Doctor of Laws degree—on Morgan students from 1947 to 1963 who were responsible for desegregating theaters and lunch counters in Baltimore, including at the Northwood Shopping Center, across from the Morgan campus.