Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial (Getty Images)

Jesse Jackson writes in his Chicago Sun-Times column that while GOP presidential candidates will pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday, they seem unaware of his contributions to the creation of the New South. The historical context is important, he writes.

New Hampshire’s primary grabs headlines today, but if history is any guide, the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary will play a far greater role in determining the Republican winner.


Of that state’s population, 28 percent are African American, and could be a major factor in the primary. But Republican candidates have made little effort to reach out to the black community. Republican South Carolina voters are likely to be nearly as white as they were in Iowa and New Hampshire. All the Republican candidates will pay tribute to Dr. King on his birthday next week, but they seem oblivious to one of his greatest contributions: the creation of the New South.

In a time of growing inequality, we forget the scope of Dr. King’s victory. When I was growing up in Greenville, S.C., segregation was the law of the land. Blacks and whites attended separate and unequal schools. My friends and I were locked out of public institutions like the public library. We still rode in the back of the bus. Greenville was the home of Bob Jones University, which Africans could attend (if they didn’t fraternize with white women) while African Americans could not. If we wanted to play college sports, we either attended a historically black institution or went to schools in the North or West.

South Carolina’s political leadership fiercely resisted the movement for civil rights. My first arrest came from trying to use the public library. It took years of struggle, demonstrations, sit-ins, bloodshed and sacrifice, but in the end, Dr. King had a more powerful vision of the future than all of the politicians, sheriffs and elites who stood in the way. 

Read Jesse Jackson's entire column at the Chicago Sun-Times.