American civil rights veteran Reverend Jesse Jackson has said he will be encouraging President Barack Obama to visit Derry in May.
Rev Jackson visited Derry at the invitation of the Pat Finucane Centre and Bloody Sunday Trust and spoke to a crowd of hundreds at a public meeting in the Guildhall.
He arrived in Derry on Sunday morning and met with local civil, political, and religious leaders at Da Vinci’s hotel. He was then taken on a tour of the Bogside with Martin McGuinness and Nobel Laureate John Hume, who took him to the Museum of Free Derry where he met with relatives of those murdered on Bloody Sunday.
More than 500 people gathered in the Guildhall on Sunday afternoon to listen to Rev Jackson in conversation with ‘Journal’ columnist Paul McFadden.
During the event, the civil rights veteran and contemporary of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. said he intends to ask the US president to include Derry on the itinerary for his Irish visit, which is planned for May.
“If he comes to Dublin and then goes back home it would be like going to America and only seeing New York. Unless you come to Derry you have not been in Ireland. The soil of the country in the south but the soul is in the north,” he said.
Rev Jackson also said the North of Ireland is currently experiencing a period of “resurrection.”
“You have come through the crucifixion of Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday but you are now living in the Sunday morning of the resurrection. This is the resurrection era, free fro violence,” he said.
He also said it is important to remember the events of the past and learn from them. “The people killed on Bloody Sunday are the fathers of the new Ireland. You are the first generation to experience it and you must teach you children. People ask why the story should be told but in time the children will ask and unless you tell them they won’t know,” he told the large audience.
Rev Jackson said people in Ireland had learned how to live apart and must now learn to live together. “Behind walls there is often ignorance and where there is ignorance there is hatred and violence. When the walls come down amazing things happen. When the walls come down the sunlight can shine on both sides and you can grow and overcome ignorance.
“You learned a bad lesson well here, how to live apart. Now you must learn to live together. You need a level playing field based on equality and dignity,” he said.
The civil rights veteran also said the election of Barack Obama as the first black president was a major achievement but added that more needs to be done.
“You can change the pilot on a ‘plane but that does not change the infrastructure that makes up that ‘plane. American has a new pilot but it is the same ‘plane. I felt delighted that we now have a black pilot. It is comforting that we can achieve that but it does not change the course of the ‘plane. It was a big step but there are many steps,” he said. He also spokes about his faith and how that has influenced his political activism. “I am a man of the Gospel and my religion informs my political life rather than my political life informing my religion. My religion makes me a politicians because reaching out beyond my race and campaigning for justice an equality is what religion is.
“It’s disturbing how people can act in the name of religion,” he said.
As a key figure in the civil rights movement in America in the late 1960s, he told the audience he is still committed to the policy of non-violence. “You can destroy the evil without destroying the person. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind, disfigured, and ugly.
“The words of Jesus spoke to me and I pray every day to be better and not bitter,” he said.
Rev Jackson received a standing ovation which lasted for several moments when he finished his discussion and was joined onstage by the mayor of Derry, councillor Colum Eastwood, who led the applause.