REMARKS BY REV. JESSE JACKSON, SR. DURING THE UNITED NATIONS
TRIBUTE TO NELSON MANDELA

July 18, 2013

 

Today, we honor Madiba, the honorable servant leader, a fighter in the streets, a fighter in the courts, fighter in prison and a fighter in the hospital. He has never stopped fighting.  Today, we offer prayers for his continued recovery.  Fifty years ago during the great global revolt against racism in America and South Africa, Martin Luther King and Mandela were jailed.  Fifty years later, they're both exalted. The great moral authorities of our time. A lot can be said about his 27 years in jail.  Some stayed longer. It is not the length of time in jail but the choices he made.  He chose reconciliation over revenge. He chose co-existence over co-annilation.  He chose healing of deep wounds over perpetuating hurt and scars.  He chose hope for the future over hostility for the past.  He chose to redeem, forgive and move on to higher ground. He chose equal rights for all rather than reciprocal pain.  He sought to end tyranny, not just to change its color.  It is tyranny that is the sin against God.

 

Every now and then there emerges among us a human being of such rare and vintage quality that the state of our collective humanity is affected by the light of their unusual witness.  

 

The sound of the genuine is not a common occurrence these days but I submit to you that in the presence of an original sound the deep dissonance of our world is made palatable if not transformed into something harmonious and symphonic.

 

And is not also the case that in the presence of such a towering figure not only must the world stop and take notice-But perhaps more importantly, we are inspired to find a more excellent way.  

 

It is with this in mind that I join with you in celebrating the life and witness of Mr. Nelson Mandela.  Nelson Mandela is, as he has always been, a man of usual grace - tolerance - and courage. 

 

For who else could have single handedly transfixed the social imagination of an entire nation while he himself languished in the darkness of a narrow South African prison? 

 

And even now as Mr. Mandela enters into what might well be the evening of his years with the sun soon setting just beyond the reach of his most loftiest achievements, he is again summoning the attention of the world as he beckons us to be mindful of the fragility of life

 

For let us never forget that it is because of the life and personal sacrifice of Mr. Mandela that South Africa is a different nation today

 

The dark night of Apartheid and racial disparity did not come to an end on its own—for those of us who have dedicated our lives to the possibility of freedom and equality understand with amazing clarity that social transformation is an intentional act.

 

The south Africa we celebrate today is result of the deliberate struggle of millions people both on the continent and around the world who somehow  believed that midnight could not last forever—and so we fought

 

Sometimes with tears in ours eyes but we kept on fighting—

 

We lost a few friends along the way—but we kept on fighting—

And there were times when we had to take up our struggle against the better judgment of the so-called civilized world—but James Russell Lowell was right:

 

Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

 

Mr. Mandela’s 27 years in prison is reminder to all of us that sometimes you have to be willing to toil in a tight place to create open space for democracy to flourish and grow.

 

We here must highly resolve that Nelson Mandela did not henceforth labor in vain.

 

And even now as we celebrate the event of his birth we must do more than give mere commendation to his struggle.

 

That kind of empty commemoration is too small for Mr. Mandela—for if we are to truly celebrate the man in who’s name we have dared to gather then the aim this celebration must be as big as he continues to be.

 

And how do you celebrate a man called to fight for truth in a world build upon many lies?—the answer in simple—by taking our place among that great cloud of witnesses so that we like them might push our shoulders against the great wheel of history until one world dies and another world is born.

 

For let us never forget that before he was a President Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter.

 

And today we cherish his struggle and take our peace from the solemn pride that must be his to have laid such a costly sacrifice upon the altars of freedom and love.

 

Today we honor the courage of Mr. Mandela as he is for us a constant reminder that truth crushed down to earth will invariably rise again.

 

Mr. Mandela is our living response to all the cynics who seek to convince us that the world will forever be as it is now.

 

In closing, let me simply say that that world will little note nor long remember what we say here today - but it will never forget the living witness of Nelson Mandela because of Mandiba standing on his shoulders.  We are a little taller sharing his vision.  We see a little further.  Because of his sacrifice we work with a little more diligence.  We're made better because of him.  And he stands among the towering figures of the human spirit; Dr. King, Ghandi, Fannie Lou Hamer.

 

We don't know how long he will be able to labor among us - but Shakesphere said it best....."And when he shall die - take him and cut him into little stars - and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will fall in love with night - and pay no worship to the garish sun.