Rev. Jesse Jackson honored with France’s highest award

Free Press wire reports | 7/22/2021, 6 p.m.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was awarded France’s highest award on Monday for helping “change the destiny of the United States” ...
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson celebrate after the civil rights leader was awarded with the Legion d’Honneur, Officer of the Legion of Honor, medal during a ceremony Monday at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris. Photo by Ludovic Marin/pool photo via AP

PARIS - The Rev. Jesse Jackson was awarded France’s highest award on Monday for helping “change the destiny of the United States” and with it, the world.

In a ceremony at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron made the longtime civil rights leader who helped free French citizens taken hostage by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War, a commander of the Legion of Honor.

Rev. Jackson, 79, who had gallbladder surgery this year and is being treated for Parkinson’s disease, had visible difficulty walking. The founder of the national Rainbow PUSH Coalition sat beside the podium as President Macron spoke during the ceremony.

“He’s a visionary with talent for uniting and leading people, whose moral and physical courage ... has helped him to overcome adversity and change the destiny of the United States, our oldest ally, and to change our world for the better,” President Macron said.

Speaking in English, the French president called Rev. Jackson “a great friend of France” and “very popular in our country, but not just in our country.”

President Macron recounted Rev. Jackson’s life, from his childhood in segregated South Carolina to his work with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his activism in Chicago. After draping a red ribbon with a medal around Rev. Jackson’s neck, President Macron clasped and held aloft Rev. Jackson’s hand amid applause from the small invited audience.

Rev. Jackson did not make any remarks during the ceremony.

The civil rights leader has remained active despite his health problems. He has advocated for vaccinations against COVID-19 in Black communities with below-average inoculation rates.

Through the Chicago-based national Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the 1984 and 1988 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination also has continued to advocate for voting rights. Last month, Rev. Jackson was arrested and ticketed for obstructing traffic during a voting rights demonstration near the U.S. Capitol.

President Macron described the world of “institutionalized inequality” that Rev. Jackson grew up in and that shaped his future as a civil rights leader. He recounted Rev. Jackson’s failed bids for the presidency and said, “You paved the way for those who came after.”

Referring to former President Obama’s election as the first Black president of the United States, the French leader asserted that “2008 would definitely have been impossible without your fights and your contribution.”

President Macron also recounted a “less-known story for which you never sought credit”— Rev. Jackson’s 1990 role in freeing French hostages during the first Gulf War. Citizens from France and several other countries were trying to stop the invasion of Kuwait and were taken hostage by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

President Macron said Rev. Jackson negotiated the release of French citizens “and thanks to you, they were safely returned to their families.”

“You are a brother to us,” President Macron said.