ATLANTA (AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson recalled that on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 39th birthday, he was working at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Jackson paid tribute to his friend two days before what would have been his 79th birthday.
The congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church gave King a standing ovation and Jackson urged the crowd to continue to fight injustice and inequality as a birthday present to the slain leader, who was killed 40 years ago in April.
"Be grateful, be diligent, be faithful," Jackson shouted above the applause. "Long live Martin Luther King, Jr."
In his address, Jackson made short mention of the social progress made since King's death — including Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's historic candidacy for president.
He did include Obama as among dreamers like King, Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ.
"Dreamers are often change agents," Jackson said. "These dreamers are not asleep. They dream with their eyes open. They are the stuff of which change is made."
Jackson said that it is momentous that Obama could be victorious in a state like South Carolina, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in an effort to maintain slavery. Jackson said Obama is in a tight race against Hillary Clinton — whom he called "a woman of dignity" — and that both require legal protection from bias four decades after King's assassination.
Jackson, who has endorsed Obama, told the audience that Clinton, Obama and John Edwards all "have the power to address the agenda of Dr. King's vision" and that those in the crowd could make a difference in the upcoming election.
"While the nation and the world is watching, make your vote and your faith the substance of change and justice," he said.
Jackson's 30-minute remarks — which were part sermon, part speech — focused heavily on the persisting ills of war, poverty and racism that King struggled against during his lifetime. And he also recalled King's last birthday, which began at 8 a.m., when King sat down to breakfast with his family.
By 9 a.m., he was in the basement of Ebenezer, dressed in blue jeans and a windbreaker, preparing for the Poor People's Campaign he planned to stage later that year. At noon, his aides brought him a birthday cake, teasing him that he was "so busy you forgot to celebrate your own birthday."
After the brief observance, Jackson recalled, King was back at work in the afternoon, working on strategies to oppose the Vietnam War.
Jackson was with King on his last birthday, and with him in Memphis when he died on April 4, 1968. He said that 40 years later, his mentor's work is not yet done.
"We are challenged today to address the unfinished business of civil rights — which is civil equality," Jackson said. "Our goal was never just freedom. Freedom was the necessary prerequisite to get to equality."
King's actual birthday is on Tuesday, and the federal observance of his birthday is on Jan. 21.