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The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, preaching from the pulpit at a Memorial Church service marking the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday delivered a blistering attack on Harvard for continuing to hold investments tied to South Africa.
"The Harvard-South Africa kinship is a marriage born in hell." Jackson told a standing-room-only audience of about 900.
"The Harvard-South Africa kinship makes crimson become red," he continued. "It symbolizes collusion with those who spill the blood of the innocent..."
"Every investment is a prison bar holding Nelson Mandela," said Jackson, refering to the leader of the African National Congress imprisoned in South Africa since 1962.
Jackson also called for a March 11 "people's pilgrimage of conscience" to Washington. D.C. to "tell out Senators and Congressmen about the consequences of poverty and hunger."
"Were it not for his vision and his courage, it is not likely that I would stand here today," Jackson said of King, "much less as someone who ran for the highest office in the land."
"Even today, 17 years after his death doors that once were closed and locked are still being opened because of the legacy of Dr. King," Jackson, clad in the minister's traditional long black robe, added.
In the heavily political 50 minute speech reminiscent of his speeches during the campaign for the Democrats presidential nomination. Jackson strongly criticized the Reagan administration for raising defense spending while cutting spending on domestic feeding programs.
"Dr. King would remind its that now is the time for leadership. It is new that we decide whether the B-1 bomber is more important than a child's school lunch. Now is the time to decide whether the MX missile gives us more security than the nutrition programs which feed our families and the elderly."
He said that eliminating two aircraft carriers from the Defense Department budget would pay for all the administration's cuts in nutrition programs.
Jackson called for the elimination of hunger in America as a "birthday present fit for a King" and said "each of us can give Dr. King our own personal gift--a gift of our time, our hearts, our convictions and our efforts to continue the work begun by him."
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, the minister of Memorial Church said the heavily political content of the speech came as no surprise.
"I certainly assumed he was going to give the inaugural address the country didn't let him make," said Gomes. "This was as good a platform as any to annouce that he's still in business, and he did that with passion and conviction."
"I'd say his audience was ready to inaugurate him on the spot," Gomes added.
King, who was slain in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, would have been 56 years old yesterday. In the 1960s Jackson rose quickly to become one of King's top lieutenants in the civil rights movement. Jackson was in Memphis with King when he was shot. The flamboyant Jackson claims he was the last person to speak to King before he died, though others who were in Memphis have disputed this.
The 43-year old Jackson painted a bleak view of American 21 years after the stain civil rights leader made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
"I cannot help but wonder how Dr. King would be celebrating his birthday today, were he still here with us. And I cannot help but ask myself how he would want us to celebrate it for him, given the suffering that has returned to this nation...Twenty one years ago Dr. King had a dream. Today that dream has yet to be fulfilled."
Noting School of Public Health research, Jackson said that the government and the country had "turned its back" on increasing poverty and hunger.
Warming up about twenty minutes into his oration, Jackson employed his strongest rolling preacher's cadences to take swipes at so-called "Yuppies"--the young urban professionals known for limitless self indulgence.
"Today as the Yuppie celebrates a new nationalism which is actually old-fashioned isolationism and chauvinism and is draped in the American flag--made in Taiwan, with a car from Japan, and styles from South Africa, the United States is South African's number one trading partner."
Attacking Harvard for its investments in American corporations that do business in South Africa, Jackson said "all who sit here silent, living off...the scholarships, the comfort of this alliance, betray the oppressed...Morally it is decadent. It leads to a soul like a donut--with a hole in it."
"It is institutionalized Yuppieism," Jackson intoned, drawing a wave of applause from the crowd gathered for the noon ceremony. South Africa's apartheid system segregates blacks and whites and denies many civil rights to minorities.
In a press conference held before the service Jackson announced that Lamond Godwin, a key Jackson campaign strategist and the political director of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, will be an Institute of Politics fellow in the spring semester.
Memorial Hall filled to capacity about a half-hour before Jackson began speaking. About 100 students waited outside hoping to see the service, but University Police and Secret Service closed the building off after all seats were taken.
Jackson also aimed a few wards at students, asking them to follow the moral example set by King.
"Most of you attending this historic Institution will have a world of opportunity at your command. Many of you will in a matter of years be able to afford cars and clothes and things of materialistic value, but what about your values? As doctors, you must choose public health over private wealth. As lawyers you must choose the pursuit of justice over the political pursuit of judgeship. As teachers, you must teach for life, not just for a living. Our values will determine our value. You must measure your character, not by the size of your car, but rather by who you will give a ride who has lost his of her way. You must choose fairness over fashions. You must choose to clothe the naked. The Bible teaches us that we judge character by how we treat the least of these; that we judge a tree by the fruit it bards, not by the bark it wears."
Jackson also took jesting note of Gomes, who will deliver the benediction at President Reagan's public inaugural next Monday.
I'm delighted that the Rev. Gomes is delivering the benediction," said Jackson, while a beaming Gomes looked on. "It means at least we'll have a safety net in case all goes wrong.
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