Jesse Jackson is the kind of man that many people love to hate and he thrives on it. He is a bigger than life personality (a nuisance to some) who will not go away or be silenced. Even his failures, and they have mounted up in recent years, haven’t stopped his train, although they have slowed him down a bit.
Born in the deep south to a single mother when race relations were very poor (1941) there wasn’t a lot of impetus to catapult Jesse into international recognition. To say he was suppressed would be an understatement. In those days he couldn’t even choose which part of the bus to ride on. Water fountains, loos and restaurants were constant reminders that he was black and therefore scorned by the white culture that surrounded him.
Not one to be kowtowed or brow beaten Jesse fought back and he is one tenacious fellow. Naturally endowed with a strong sense of confidence, he never comfortably wore the “Uncle Tom” suit and he didn’t get along very well with those who could. He has a long history of gravitating to social injustice, particularly of the racial kind, bulldozing anyone who happens to be in the way and making lots of noise until everyone takes notice. Jesse epitomizes the old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” It is not a pleasant job but he seems well suited for it and, as they say, someone has to do it.
To his credit, Jesse also knows how to flex. As racial imbalances adjusted Jesse moderated his approach. He went from addressing solely racial issues to tackling any situation he considered to represent social injustice and his list of accomplishments and activities are long. “Keep Hope Alive Radio” describes Jesse and some of his credits.
- As a diplomat Jesse has negotiated the release of captives held in Syria, Cuba, Kuwait, Iraq and Kosovo.
- In 1997 Bill Clinton appointed him as “Special Envoy of the President and Secretary of State for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa.”
- He was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2000.
- He has led, by invitation, two of the largest marches in the world both taking place in London (1985 against Apartheid and 2003 opposing the invasion of Iraq) not to mention the many other marches he led and organized.
- Over the past twenty years, he has frequently been in the top ten of Gallup’s list of the Most Respected Americans.
- He is a recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Award and has received honors from many other grassroots and community organizations.
- He has been awarded over 40 honorary doctorates.
- He has hosted nationally syndicated TV and radio programs.
- He has authored books.
- He ran two respectable but unsuccessful campaigns for the Presidency.
- He served as Shadow Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 through 1997.
- And more…
In spite of his accomplishments, however, many don’t trust Jesse and never will no matter what he does. When he confessed to an affair, the fruit of which was a daughter, along with misspending public money (in 2001), he was gleefully written off as finished. Not only did his disparagers expect him to die a painful and immediate death this, they thought, showed him to be the lying, thieving con-artist they always considered him to be. In their minds the real Jesse was finally exposed. But, alas, he didn’t go away. He is still standing; still making mistakes but still standing. Not as tall as he once did and I doubt he could make a serious run for the presidency now but, much to the surprise of many, Jesse hasn’t evaporated and the big question is why.
Well, for those who don’t like Jesse, the answer will always be, “he is a conniving, slippery so and so who can squirm his way out of every mess” but the facts say something quite different.
For over 40 years, Jesse has provided the collective voice for all the pain and outrage felt by marginalized minorities, especially in the USA; a cause that needed very strong leadership. The reality is, addressing civil rights injustice in the early years was more like a contact sport than a diplomatic process and Jesse was the man for the job. He played “smash mouth politics” about as peacefully as could be done. No other civil rights leader has risen to the same heights (other than King), lasted as long or had the same level of influence.
When Jesse was born, racism had been a scar on the social life of America far too long and he, following the demise of Dr. King, willingly stepped in to address the need. Not everyone supported his bid for leadership, white or black, but he was driven and he couldn’t be stopped. He was a strong and natural leader who played no favorites and he has done a remarkable job. His speaking style is a bit punchy and very boisterous but, more than any other person, he has raised the level of consciousness on civil injustice for all Americans even the ones who resist.
Jesse has often been accused of working only for himself and his transgressions have been magnified to substantiate the claim. Yes, he is human and makes his share of mistakes but the real Jesse truly cares and he has served a great cause. One much bigger than most are willing to admit.
You don’t have to think long or very deeply to realize that racism is more of a bad mark on American morality than even abortion. With abortion the pain is over very quickly shortly after life starts. Racism is a slow demoralizing death after you are born which spreads to all contemporaries and carries over to the next generation as well. It is a living death that never goes away and dealing with this problem is what got Jesse started in the first place. Many indignant voices have been raised against abortion. Jesse was one of the few willing to stare racism in the face and call it the evil it was. He wasn’t a lone voice but he was probably the bravest and loudest of the bunch.
Jesse wasn’t happy only to fight for legislation dealing with the external layers of racism. He attacked the “old boy” inner sanctums whether political, academic or corporate. He was out to change the way people think and act and he has succeeded. Yes, along the way, he probably afforded himself more personal benefits than the public would normally allow but there are no rules of etiquette for this type of activism. In his unorthodox style he rode the boundaries and pushed the envelop but most people either cheered him on or quietly and shamefully muttered because he was cleaning stalls long overlooked by everyone else and he was bound to step in a little himself.
On the night Barack Obama was recognized as the victor in the 2008 Presidential elections Jesse celebrated, not with jeers and excessive “in your face” rollicking but with quiet tears. The significance of the occasion was not lost on Jesse. In spite of his criticisms and unkind remarks toward Obama, he realized his lifelong dream had come true. The real Jesse was caught on camera for all to see.
I hope all the detractors of Mr. Jackson are very careful in their personal lives. If they get caught with their pants down they will definitely have their legs knocked out from under them. Unlike Jesse, they may not have a cause to stand on.
What do you THINK!AboutIt?
One reviewer said this biography, Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson, by Marshall Frady (a civil rights reporter), “will no doubt be the best Jackson biography available for a very long time.” Frady’s material is based on years of personal access to Jesse and observations of his activities.
For a more negative approach to Jesse’s life you can read Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson. The author, Kenneth Timmerman, is a well known reporter and a prolific writer whose focus is described as “dark side.” Factual but one sided. His material is based on research rather than up close and personal observations.