Jacqueline Jackson accepts honorary doctorate at North Carolina A&T State University; ‘I want to make America better’

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Mother’s Day weekend was filled with college graduations around the Piedmont Triad. Mother’s Day morning, North Carolina A&T State University had a special guest on stage for commencement: Rev. Jesse Jackson.

But he was not the honoree. It was his wife who was awarded an honorary doctorate.

“Aggie-born, Aggie-bred, and, when I die, I’ll be Aggie dead. And I promise never to say that to anybody but I’ve heard it all over the country,” Jacqueline Jackson said, reciting the famous North Carolina A&T phrase.

She and Jesse Jackson met as students at A&T around 60 years ago.

“Oh my God that’s a long time. He’s my antique,” she joked.

“She’s been a silent force in our foreign policy,” Rev. Jackson explained. “I trace it to when I first met her. I was a sophomore. I went to the library trying to make my little pitch to her. I said I’ll help you with your homework. She said I’m working on a paper on China and India.”

On this Mother’s Day, the university awarded her an honorary doctorate degree. Two of her three children who also attended A&T presented it to her. The Jacksons got married in college and started their family in Greensboro. They moved to Chicago where he attended seminary and became Rev. Jesse Jackson – the household name. And they’ve fought for change and civil rights ever since.

“Reverend and I have been in our progressive politics, we have been in every movement since we attended this university,” Mrs. Jackson explained.

She was a driving force behind his run for president in 1984. He told us about one disappointing primary when she knocked some sense into him.

“She said, ‘Disappointed? Get upstairs, take a nap, come back and keep fighting. You’re not going to embarrass our people by quitting.’ So the encouragement at the critical points,” he said.

Most of Mrs. Jackson’s work has been behind the scenes.

“I protect my privacy because I am a mother with five children,” she said. “So I have many chores.”

She’s advocated for civil rights with other great women of the struggle: Betty Shabazz, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone and Mahalia Jackson. She’s also poured herself into the Jackson Legacy Foundation that focuses on addressing the needs of African Americans.

“Your work is about convincing and strengthening people to be the very best that they can be,” she said. “I want to make America better. I want to make the American people better. And the only way you can do that is to be of service.”

And armed with her fresh honorary doctorate, this Aggie still has lots of service ahead of her.

“I’m excited that I’m living in this time. And I believe we’re going to make it,” she said.

We also talked to the Jacksons about the state of race in America. Hear more from that part of their conversation Thursday night at 6 p.m. for In Black and White.

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