Civil rights leader and two-time U.S. presidential candidate, Rev. Jesse Jackson was an honored guest and featured speaker at the opening of the new Museum of Free Derry in Derry, Northern Ireland.
The museum is dedicated to the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland from 1968 through 1972, a struggle modeled in no small measure after the African-American freedom movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his band of talented lieutenants, including a young Baptist minister named Jesse Louis Jackson.
In his letter asking Rev. Jackson “to do the honors at our opening,” Museum of Free Derry chair Robin Percival said Rev. Jackson remains “an iconic figure in terms of the struggle for civil rights and social and economic justice throughout the world.”
During his visit to Northern Ireland, Rev. Jackson will meet with families of the victims of Bloody Sunday – the day in 1972 when British paratroopers gunned down nonviolent marchers, protesting discriminatory incarceration practices.
Fourteen people, including six children, were killed. Seventeen other marchers were injured.
Rev. Jackson visited Derry in 2011 and toured the old museum, which has been completely rebuilt on the site where Bloody Sunday took place.
Percival said the new museum is in the process of developing a “twinning” relationship with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama and, “given our focus on civil rights and our growing links with the African-American struggle in the Deep South, we believe that it is entirely appropriate to ask Rev. Jackson” to “officiate” and speak at the opening.
He will also visit the gravesite of Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army commander and Sinn Fein political leader who helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland and put an end to the “Troubles” that left 3,700 dead in internecine religious war.
McGuinness died in March after a brief illness at age 66.
Rev. Jackson met McGuinness during his 2011 visit to Derry and likens his evolution from warrior-to-peacemaker-to-elected official to that of Nelson Mandela and the freedom struggle in South Africa.
“The pattern of communities struggling for freedom, justice and democracy is essentially the same,” Rev. Jackson says. “Where there is no justice, there can be no peace. As Dr. King often reminded us, peace is not the absence of noise but the presence of justice.”