Dorothy Jackson, retired deputy mayor of Akron, got to meet the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. after a civil rights rally in 1962 at the University of Akron.
Jackson, Sunday afternoon’s keynote speaker at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture at Akron-Summit County Public Library, reflected on King, civil rights, her family, life’s lessons and more in a highly personal talk before about 170 people. The program in the library auditorium included a short, live music feature based on King’s I Have A Dream speech.
Jackson remembered being asked what she would talk about with King if she got the chance to speak with him at the university rally. She said she would talk about “If you sweep the floor” — an expression King used in his writings.
After King finished speaking, Jackson had the privilege of walking over with her niece to meet him.
“He took time to talk to me,” she said. “I was just somebody that came to hear him.”
King said, “If you sweep the floor, sweep it like Beethoven,” Jackson said. “He meant to do your best. He meant to give it your all.”
King’s talk in Akron was intended to inspire and challenge people, Jackson said.
King let us know “we’re all God’s children,” she said. “We’re equal in His sight. And so our job is to get out there and let people know that’s what we are, equal in His sight.”
(She named her Sunday talk after King’s “If you sweep the floor” saying.)
Jackson said she learned many of her life’s lessons at home from her mother and father, who moved to Akron from Oklahoma in the 1920s.
“Never let failure make you think you have to stay down,” Jackson said. Her father would say “Anybody can fall but nobody has to wallow.”
Jackson, in taking questions from the audience, noted that she experienced racism in her life, including being called the N-word. (The Beacon Journal does not publish racial epithets.)
“Even as an adult, I was called [N-word],” she said. Her parents also experienced racism while having white and black friends, she said.
Racism remains alive but race relations have improved, Jackson said. She noted that Akron has elected minorities to local offices and that President Barack Obama was sworn in this day to his second term.
Her parents always voted, she said.
“My father was a Republican and my mother was a Democrat,” Jackson said.
Young people need to stay in school, get an education and put in the time to get good grades, she said. They also need to do what they are told to do at work, she said.
Jackson was asked how to keep forgiving prejudice and have a spirit of forgiveness.
She said she uses prayer.
“I still mess up,” Jackson said. “I have to go and ask God to forgive me. And if I want to be forgiven, then I have to forgive. ...Why do you want to keep that stuff stored up inside you? It’s going to destroy you and not do a thing to the other person.”
Braeden Smith, 14, said he came to Jackson’s talk in part to get her autograph. (He succeeded.) He goes to Arlington Christian Academy and is thinking of becoming a software engineer.
Smith said he heard Jackson talk last year at his school.
“She’s been through a lot,” he said. “Her entire life has been a story itself.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.