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'We're learning how to live together,' Jesse Jackson tells U. audience (+video)

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 11:15 a.m. MST

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson shakes hands with fans after giving his keynote address during the University of Utah's Martin Luther King Week at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — In an address that was part church revival and part a call to action, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson called on Utahns to continue to tear down walls that divide and learn to live together.

"When the walls come down, we see each other in real time and real ways," Jackson told an audience of mostly college students and schoolchildren at the Jon M. Huntsman Center Thursday.

"When walls come down, the sun is able to shine on all of us. Let the walls come down."

Jackson, 71, was keynote speaker for the University of Utah’s Martin Luther King Week celebration “Justice for All: At What Cost?” 

Octavio Villalpando, associate vice president of equity and diversity, noted that Jackson's visit to the university comes about 52 years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s only visit to the U. and Utah in 1961.

Jackson observed that Monday not only marked President Barack Obama's second inauguration, it was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day. King's work and his legacy centered on tearing down walls, he said. The remnants of those walls became the "bridges Obama ran across in 2012."

While much has been achieved in terms of racial equality in Jackson's lifetime, much work lies ahead to ensure all Americans are equal partners in the American dream, he said.

"In a land so blessed, we're too stressed" by poverty, gun violence, drugs and a lack of opportunity, he said.

Fear and violence undermine the promise of the American dream. "We love what we should hate, drugs, violence and guns."

But Jackson said youth can "seize the world anew from elementary school to college. And let nothing break your spirit."

While older generations may resist change, the world is changing around them.

The day of King's historic "I Have A Dream" speech in 1962, blacks were not allowed to use public restrooms. Jackson himself was arrested for attempting to use a public library, he said.

King spoke 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves and just a couple of years before passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. But it wasn't until later in the South that white women were allowed to serve on juries and 18-year-olds who were old enough to be drafted into the war in Vietnam would have the right to vote.

Now, three women have been appointed to the Supreme Court, people are smoking fewer cigarettes, believe climate change is real, and Obama, the nation's first black president, has won two elections, he said.

"We are early in the morning of a new day. This is the dawn of a new day. The sun has set on the old day. We're moving forward to high noon, not the other direction."

Jackson, who spent a great deal of time with King and was in Memphis with him when the civil rights leader was assassinated on April 4, 1968, said King would have been proud of the events honoring him at the university this week.

"We're learning something new, how to live together. We were not taught to live together. We learned a bad lesson well. Now, we must learn a new lesson. Together we'll prevail and make a great nation greater. God bless you."

During an earlier press conference Thursday, Jackson urged Utahns to "honor the American promise of equal rights and possibilities for all." He said that promise requires equal treatment of women, people of color and sexual orientations.

"It means being fair, rejuvenating our commitment to equal protection for all people and equal opportunity. We now see the advantage of living that way."

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