By Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.
We are all saddened by the passing of my friend and Brother Beloved, Don Cornelius. At this moment, “Precious Memories” flood my soul as I remember all that this great man contributed to the popular culture—and all that he gave to me personally.
I first met Don in 1964 when he was a reporter with the iconic WVON radio station. Then, and throughout the course of his lifetime, Don was driven by a singular determination to tell the story of the African American experience.
Indeed, his coverage of Dr. King’s charge for open housing in the city of Chicago gave voice to the legitimate hopes and aspirations of a community pinned under the historical weight of disadvantage.
Inspired by the Civil Rights movement, Don Cornelius transitioned from journalism and ventured into the realm of music and entertainment. There existed a disconnect between the profound impact that Black culture had on American society and the absence of these artists from the mainstream stages, especially in the medium of television.
His remedy was to provide a stage upon which these cultural innovators and their talents could be highlighted. With his own $400, Don rented out the WCIU/Channel 26 studios and started “Soul Train”, a dance review featuring young high schoolers and some of the highest profile, yet under-recognized Black talent in the world of entertainment.
The show exploded in popularity, and after a year, with the sponsorship of Johnson’s Product’s Hair Company, “Soul Train” went national – and the rest is, quite literally, history.
I was blessed to have known Don over the years, and he was an unceasing and tireless supporter of my work. But, more than all of this, Don was a personal friend. He shared many wonderful times in my home with my wife and children. And in times of triumph and challenge, he was always there. My love, thoughts and prayers are with his family.
We are beneficiaries of his special kind of genius.