This Black History Month I’m Grateful for Jesse Jackson
“Both tears and sweat
are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy;
sweat will get you change.”
In the last decade or so, the Reverend Jesse Jackson has
become caricatured for having a complicated personal life and making an absurd
statement about Barack Obama. However the 21st century image of
Jackson I’ll remember is this one. The
picture doesn’t reflect the elation of a typical Obama supporter. The picture
represents an outpouring of emotion from a man who spent his entire adult life fighting
on the front lines of America’s race battles. And, in this picture, we can see
Jesse Jackson watching Barack Obama complete the journey Jackson began himself.
People often forget that Jesse Jackson was a civil rights
prodigy. While only in his mid-20s, Jackson became a trusted adviser to Martin
Luther King Jr., helping run Operation Breadbasket in Chicago and planning
national strategies. In the famous photo of the Lorraine Motel balcony upon
which King was assassinated, Jackson is one of the men surrounding King.
During the 1970s, Jackson worked to fill the void left by
King’s death and became the most prominent advocate for Black interests.
Jackson attempted to meld the interests of the old guard civil rights
community, the developing Black middle class and Black Power radicals by
emphasizing Black culture, pride, self-reliance and community. He also helped
develop the model of Black Expos which expanded into other communities across
Jackson’s obituary will most prominently highlight his 1984
and 1988 Presidential campaigns. Jackson was the first Black candidate to run a
national Presidential campaign that featured electoral successes.* Jackson did
so well in 1984 that eventual Democratic nominee Walter Mondale felt compelled
to choose someone who was not a White male in an effort to capture potentially
disaffected Jackson voters.#
Even after failing to win the Presidency, Jackson stayed
engrossed in national politics, serving as Washington, DC’s shadow senator. Now,
the prodigy has become one of the elder statesmen of Black America; receiving
Jackson’s blessing is still greatly valued. He’s one of the strongest links between
the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement and the glories of an America in
which a Black person is President.
Today I am grateful for Jesse Jackson. You should be too.
*- Shirley Chisholm ran an inspiring campaign in 1972 but
never gained any traction. Chisholm demonstrated tremendous courage during her
short lived race and survived at least three assassination attempts.
#- His choice of Geraldine Ferraro was poorly received.