By Justin Boron
Rev. Jesse Jackson's voice climbed to its apex in a podium-rattling speech Sunday afternoon as he demanded the audience move beyond admiration of Rev. Martin Luther King and make good on the ground work laid by his civil rights legacy.
"It's easy to admire," he said. "It's harder to follow."
The crowd repeated the words in the type of refrain that follows Jackson wherever he speaks publicly.
The historic civil rights leader, who stood beneath the motel balcony where King was shot, came to Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro during a weekend of marches and speeches that served to frame King's official day of observance today.
Rev. James Harris, the church's pastor, introduced the man who has been called "the Conscience of the Nation."
"I've never had the chance to introduce a man of this magnitude," he said.
Stepping up from his chair, where he calmly paged through his notes, Jackson burst into his speech and roused the crowd in a call and refrain.
He shouted, "I am - somebody. Respect me. Protect me."
In honor of the slain civil rights leader, who would have been 76 Saturday, Jackson beseeched the crowd to carry King's legacy to what he calls the fourth stage of equality - access to capital, industry, and technology.
"You can be out of slavery and out of segregation and have the right to vote and starve to death without access to capital and industry," Jackson said.
Jesse also said he worried King's legacy was fading.
"With each passing year, his legacy has been watered down," he said.
To reiterate the importance of perpetuating King's work, Jackson took the audience through the moments of King's final birthday in which he met with other civil rights organizers and developed plans for the renowned march on Washington.
"What could we do to make Dr. King happy tonight?" he asked, then he answered himself by encouraging the crowd to spend the day like King spent his birthday, fighting social injustice.
"You got the birthday. But do you have the legacy? The legacy is to fight for jobs, justice, health care, education and end to war," Jackson said.
He also criticized military spending as being excessive in the face of under-funded schools.
"[The country] is spending $1 billion a week in Iraq and can't properly fund schools," Jackson said.
During the speech, Jackson drew attention to the marches in South Carolina and Columbus, Ga., earlier in the weekend.
He was one of about 8,000 people who marched in Columbus Saturday to remember the 2003 shooting death of an unarmed black man.
"A black man was shot in cold blood," he said. "Police walked away."
Kenneth Walker, 39, was shot to death by former Muscogee County Sheriff Deputy David Glisson, after the vehicle he was in was stopped as part of a drug investigation. No drugs were found, and no one was arrested.
A grand jury did not indict Glisson in the shooting.
Gail Davenport, president of the local chapter of the RainbowPush Coalition, presided over the event in Jonesboro.
Jackson called her "the godmother of Clayton County."
After nearly 30 minutes of fervent speaking, he walked away from the podium sweating from his brow. He would head to Chicago for another speech, leaving Clayton County to carry out King's legacy.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.