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August 29, 2017

Why I Can’t Go Back: A statement by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.


August 28, 2017 

Why I Can’t Go Back
A statement by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Anything could have happened – none of it good – when Rosa Parks said “no” and refused to give up her seat on that bus in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, the first capital of the Confederacy.


She could have been thrown down the stairs by the driver or slapped around and humiliated by a policemen outraged at her simple but profoundly courageous act of dignity and defiance. At the very least she was going to jail.


Years later, sitting at her kitchen table in Detroit, where she had fled to escape the racist rage and threats that lasted long after her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I asked her why she put herself at such grave risk. Why didn’t she just adjust to the oppression, get up and go to the back of the bus like everyone else?


“When I thought about Emmett Till, I couldn’t go back,” the petite patriot told me, referring to the 14-year-old black boy lynched a few months before on Aug. 28, 1955 – 62 years ago today.


When I think about Heather Heyer I feel the same way. She inspires me. I know I am not alone. There is no doubt that her murder by an American terrorist in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017 helped bring 40,000 people – red, yellow, brown, black and white, young and old, gay and straight – into the streets of Boston exactly one week later to say no to white supremacy and hate.


Heather Heyer is a modern day civil rights martyr, a hero of hope. She is in the linage of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, of Medgar Evers and Viola Liuzzo. Like the murder of Emmett Till, her death is a blow to the haters and killers that seek to turn back the clock on civil and human rights. Their cause is lost – again. Truth crushed to earth will rise again. There is redemption in the unearned suffering of the innocent, power in the blood of martyrs.


On Aug. 28, 1963, exactly eight years after Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. electrified the nation with his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.


Today, as I and hundreds of religious leaders across lines of faith and traditions marched in D.C. to commemorate that march and to protest the immoral policies of the Trump administration, I couldn’t get Emmett Till and Heather Heyer out of my head or heart.


When I think of them, I can’t go back.


Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Founder and President

Rainbow PUSH Coalition







Don Terry

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