COLLEGE PARK -- The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson recalled that Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were slain in Philadelphia, Miss., 28 years ago when they organized voter registration drives for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
Yesterday, on the the last day to register to vote in Maryland's March 3 primary election, Mr. Jackson told students that the martyrdom of the two white New Yorkers and the black Mississippian was only a beginning -- today's students must take advantage of their voting rights.
"They suffered a crucifixion so that you may have a resurrection," Mr. Jackson, president of the national Rainbow Coalition, said.
About 900 people crowded into a University of Maryland at College Park restaurant to listen to Mr. Jackson, now the "shadow" senator from the District of Columbia.
For an hour, the candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination mixed biblical and civil rights references with current events and old-fashioned sermonizing to preach voter registration and convince the students and other supporters that their votes count.
"Every vote counts. Whenever young Americans have come alive, America has always been made better," Mr. Jackson said.
"You are empowered if you have the will to use that strength," he added. "If you want better jobs when you graduate, vote about it. If you want better housing, vote about it."
After the speech, coalition representatives, student government leaders and members of the Young College Democrats and the African Student Association helped hundreds of students fill out voter registration forms.
The Rainbow Coalition is organizing Student Empowerment '92, a national alliance of student groups working to register voters.
Mr. Jackson said he was attracted to College Park after seeing students protest and rally against budget cuts to higher education in the fall.
Among 18- to 24-year-olds, national voter registration in the 1988 presidential election was less than 40 percent. Only half of those turned out to vote, according to Greg Moore, the Rainbow Coalition's coordinator of voter registration projects.
The coalition also is expected to visit the University of Arkansas and Jackson State University in Mississippi on Friday and the University of New Hampshire on Saturday to promote student registration.
In Maryland's last presidential primary, only 689,146 of the 2,106,495 registered voters of all ages actually cast ballots.
In the general election, only slightly more than half of those registered showed up, state election officials say.
Residents can register for the Nov. 3 general presidential election from March 16 through Oct. 5.
While Mr. Jackson would not say which Democratic candidate he favors this year, he urged students to look closely at all of the candidates.
Mr. Jackson also addressed other issues, such as promoting statehood for the District of Columbia and his frustration with the federal government's deportation of Haitian immigrants to their homeland.
Paul Carlson, 21, Student Government Association president, said political apathy on the College Park campus may disappear as the students see the recession affecting them directly.