It was a table set for the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Jim Vance, grits on the menu, lunch-hour at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Both men were out of the limelight, if only for a moment.
The meal would become one of the civil rights leader’s dearest meetings with the broadcast icon, as the Reverend arrived at the restaurant once more Sunday, without his friend.
“I miss him already,” Jackson said in an interview. “His penetrating concern for all helped him to become a pioneer, a pace-setter, and a way-maker.”
Jackson stood before the new mural now spanning the side of Ben’s, a towering tableau of Washington icons, featuring Prince, the Obamas, and Vance.
The veteran journalist for NBC Washington made his final public appearance before the wall a month ago, fans cheering as he continued his fight against cancer.
“My blessings continue to flow, and may God bestow them on you all, too,” Vance said during the June 21 event. “You cannot imagine my joy and my pride when I got the word that all y’all had voted for me to sit on Ben’s Chili Bowl’s wall, you have no idea what an honor that is.”
Patrons voted for who would be included on the latest mural to grace the side of the D.C. institution, with Vance portrayed as keeping a watchful eye over the city he adopted as his own on June 10, 1969.
The schoolteacher from Philadelphia would not only play a pivotal role in the city’s social fabric but also serve as a leading voice for African-Americans venturing into broadcast news nation-wide.
Jackson saw his friend as the Jackie Robinson of his craft, paving the way for other journalists to follow.
“In many ways, if Jackie Robinson had failed, many athletes would not have had the chance to play,” Jackson said. “We take Lester Holt for granted on the Nightly News… But if Vance had not succeeded, many journalists would not have had the chance to succeed.”
If they couldn’t meet in person, Jackson said could always reach the veteran broadcaster on the phone – one of the things Jackson said he would miss the most following Vance’s death.
“He was always available,” Jackson said. “As busy as he was, if we thought we had an idea worth pursuing, he would always get back to you.”
After glancing up at the image of Vance on the wall, the Reverend called his friend a community servant and left their meeting place with a message for the journalist’s family.
“Be proud, Vance was a gift from your family, a gift from God.”