Thirty years ago the Sterling high school football team and its star quarterback, Jesse Jackson, regularly piled into a school bus for the
60-km trip through the Appalachian Mountains to Asheville, N.C. Jackson’s team, like its opponents in Asheville, was all black. The restaurants, public washrooms, water fountains, movie theatres and railway depots in both towns were segregated. And economic, political and
Escort: As his motorcade was escorted downtown by policemen of both races,
Jackson conferred with his media secretary, Elizabeth Colton, a daughter of a white Asheville family. And before the candidate visited students at Asheville’s modern integrated high school, he was praised at a fundraising lunch by white Republican Mayor Louis Bissette. Declared Jackson: “In a real sense, this is the new South —black and white coming together.”
legal power in both communities was held exclusively by whites. Last week Jackson returned to Asheville as a Democratic contender for the presidency of the United States.
Indeed, despite remaining racial tensions, it is clear that the civil rights movement, in which Jackson has been a longtime activist, has brought about dramatic changes. But Jackson, in his second bid for the Democratic nomination, says that the movement’s civil rights triumphs have not been matched by economic gains. Lauding “the new South’s symbolism,” Jackson told campaign crowds, “We who are dark must look beyond symbolism and face new challenges.”
The challenge for Jackson on Super Tuesday will be to broaden his base of support. His two primary victories in the 1984 race were in areas with large black populations: Washington, D.C., and Louisiana. His black support has grown since 1984, most analysts say, and Jackson’s goal is to add the votes of poor whites, farmers, liberals and students. His second-place showing last week in Minnesota’s Democratic caucus —a
state where blacks make up only one per cent of the population—along with his earlier success in largely white Iowa have given Jackson’s campaign credibility. But if his dream of becoming the first black president is to be fulfilled, he will have to claim a string of victories on March 8.
In both white and black political circles, Jackson arouses much controversy. But even his harshest critics concede that the Chicago-based Baptist minister is the most persuasive orator of all the
presidential contenders. The trademark of his speeches is a steadily rising pitch. At the start, Jackson’s voice is barely audible. By the end, his face is often drenched in sweat. The six-foot, threeinch preacher, his voice breaking, conveys a powerful impression—but the power is not showmanship alone.
Themes: Even at fund-raising functions, such as last week’s lunch in Asheville, Jackson does not shy from making some in his audience uncomfortable. He emphasizes three main themes: stronger border patrols to keep illegal drugs out of the country, a program to discourage U.S. corporations from moving factories overseas, and the need for a higher minimum wage. In Asheville, he told his largely middle-class audience that most
poor people were not unemployed, but underpaid; not black, but female and white. Said Jackson: “Just because they wait on tables in this hotel, a loaf of bread isn’t cheaper for them.”
Control: The solution to the problems of the working poor, Jackson says, is an increase in the minimum wage. However, he does not point out that most workers are subject to state minimumwage regulations, over which the president has only limited control. Jackson also says that corporations, rather than
seeking short-term profits, should build earnings over long periods.
His message has won support from many labor leaders. But many Americans, both black and white, who are sympathetic to Jackson’s views, are reluctant to support him—in particular, many liberal Jews who might otherwise give him their vote. During the 1984 campaign, a Washington Post article mentioned that, in a private conversation, Jackson had referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York City as “Hymietown.” As controversy erupted, Jackson stood by silently while Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan warned the Jewish community: “If you harm this brother [Jackson], it will be the last one you harm.”
After a three-week uproar, Jackson finally apologized for his remarks but refused to discuss Farrakhan’s. Despite attempts by Jackson to repair the damage, a rift remains between him and some members of the Jewish community.
Rights: His relations with other black leaders have also been uneven.
Jackson became a member of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) after taking part in a 1965 civil rights march on Selma,
Ala. But Jackson grew apart from the SCLC following King’s assassination in 1968. He later claimed to have cradled the dying civil rights leader in his arms and to have heard his final words.
But all the others present when King was shot at a Memphis, Tenn., motel insist that the Rev. Ralph Abernathy held the dying King in his final moments. Their dismay over Jackson’s claim was aggravated when he addressed the Chicago city council the day after the killing wearing a sweater that he claimed was stained with King’s blood.
Record: In 1984 many black leaders distanced themselves from Jackson and endorsed Walter Mondale, who boasted a long record of supporting civil rights. Although some black leaders remain uncommitted, Jackson appears to have more of their support than in the past.
About half the 23 black members of Congress have already endorsed him. So have a number of black mayors. Among the holdouts is Detroit’s Mayor Coleman Young.
One of his concerns is shared by critics of all races: Jackson has never held elected office. Said Young last fall: “The trouble with Jesse is that he ain’t never run nothing but his mouth.”
Jackson’s campaign staff members say that he has gained political experience through community organizing. In 1971 Jackson finally
broke his ties with the SCLC and set up his own organization, now called People United to Serve Humanity (Operation PUSH). Seventeen years later the group’s record reflects both Jackson’s weaknesses and strengths. Its successes have come from campaigns that rely on Jackson’s personal negotiating skills. Jeffrey Campbell, the chairman of the Pillsbury Co.’s restaurant division, which includes the Burger King fast-food restaurant chain, was clearly skeptical about Jackson before they first met in 1983.
But Jackson argued so persuasively
that Burger King should return something to the black community, that Campbell agreed to join PUSH in a $460-million minority-opportunity program. Said Campbell: “Twenty years from now when I sit back and think of the things I’m proudest of at Burger King, one of them will be the impact we were able to make through this covenant.”
Programs: But the
daily operations of PUSH, its educational programs and its finances are controversial. A 1976 study for the U.S. government found that PUSH’S education program was “main-
ly paper.” The departS ment of education is $ demanding a refund of o $1.2 million in grant money that it contends PUSH could not account for. That demand, as well
as other debts, has left PUSH $1.4 million in the red.
Still, Jackson has surmounted similar hurdles before. In 1984, despite major organizational and financial difficulties, he arrived at the Democratic convention in third place. This time around, Jackson led in many national opinion polls that preceded the primaries. Even if he does not arrive with a winning number of delegates at the July convention, Jackson’s support will probably give him a powerful brokering role. Last year in a television interview Jackson broke with tradition and said that he would give “serious consideration” to accepting the vice-presidential slot if he failed to win his party’s presidential nomination. He now brushes off that reply, insisting that he is in the race to win. But in the end, Jackson’s fate will hinge on whether the United States is ready to elect a black president. While his populist beliefs and oratorial skills draw applause from audiences of all races, Super Tuesday may show whether
whites, Hispanics and o others are willing to turn $ their cheers into votes o for the fiery preacher.
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