The Rev. Jesse Jackson nodded and winked at a few friends on the front row at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center late Thursday morning.
“It’s good to be home,” he said at the South Carolina State Baptist Convention. “It feels good to be home in South Carolina.”
Moments earlier, the Greenville native’s walk to the stage was interrupted as men shook his hand and others tucked themselves beside him for phone photographs.
Once on stage, Jackson’s face relaxed as he stood behind the microphone.
Deftly juggling milestones in time, Jackson said black people in South Carolina were brought here as commodities to be bought and sold while today there are 220,000 black people who are not registered to vote in the state.
“Freedom,” he said. “If you see a bird in a cage and that bird’s singing, that bird’s cussing in bird language.”
Jackson is not only attending the Baptist convention, he is in the state to urge ministers to tackle three topics — voter registration, the need for Medicaid and to support gun control.
“It hurts me to see, in South Carolina, folks fight for the right to remain poor,” the two-time presidential candidate said before addressing the convention. “How can anybody in their right mind fight against Medicaid when they don’t have health insurance? Fight to remain poor?”
Jackson said the state is losing $10 billion over 10 years in Medicaid funding after then Gov. Nikki Haley turned down the money from the federal government. He said the result has been the loss of rural hospitals as they close because of lack of funding.
He said there are 700,000 in need of Medicaid in the state.
And with graduations coming, Jackson said students should be clutching diplomas in one hand and a voter registration card in the other.
“Voting is, 220,000 can decide the governor’s race, the senate race,” he added young people have the right to vote on lowering tuition so they won’t have to carry heavy student-loan debt. “If you want to express yourself, then vote about it.”
Making note the initiatives are directed at all races, Jackson said South Carolinians should work together to achieve the three-prong goal of Medicaid funding, gun control and increased voting.
Using his teen years as an example, Jackson said he travelled from town to town to play football in high school at a time when blacks and whites weren’t allowed to sit together in the football stands or play on the same field. Now, he paused, everyone rallies to either support Clemson University or the University of South Carolina in the annual rivalry football game showing the races can come together on a level playing field.
“We have been taught to live apart,” he said as the hymns sang at the Baptist convention could be heard in the small meeting room across the hall. “We must unlearn that lesson. It’s the Christian thing to do.”
Walking into the Baptist convention room in mid-hymn, Jackson paused to hug several people as he slowly made his way to the stage.
Once behind the microphone, the reverend started a call and response.
“One. We want Medicaid. Two. We want to end violence. Too many guns. Three. We want the power to vote,” he said leading to the end of his speech. “I fear no evil. I fear no Trump. My God is the one. Trump is temporary.”