The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the iconic civil rights leader who was an aide for many years to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s, suggested Friday that relations between the black and …
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the iconic civil rights leader who was an aide for many years to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s, suggested Friday that relations between the black and white races have improved since those turbulent years.
Jackson spoke with the Cleveland Daily Banner by conference call from Washington, D.C., prior to traveling to Memphis where he was scheduled to promote health care and continue preparation for — and public awareness of — the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in the West Tennessee city on April 4, 1968.
The outspoken race relations advocate, whose RainbowPush Coalition based in Chicago is reaching out to news media outlets, talked on a variety of domestic and international issues. In the 45-minute interview — which included a Banner reporter and editor — Jackson opened himself to any question, while injecting a few of his own.
Jackson, who was once a Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency, was asked why he chose speaking to a small community newspaper such as the Banner, whose readership is predominately conservative.
“I think that Dr. King’s birth was like a Bethlehem and Memphis was like a Calvary,” Jackson said. “And Calvary had to be right between that line between the rich and the Delta, the richest soil and the poorest people in America. His mission was to find common ground between white and black, and to move us from the racial battleground to an economic common ground to a moral higher ground.”
“People in the Cleveland area should put a value in the ‘new relationships,’” he said. “Our Christian faith will empower us to put Christ over culture. The culture says to ignore that person in the road. If you pick him up, you must have done something wrong. Christ says if you pick him up, you are a hero and a Samaritan. That’s the tremendous challenge of the church. When you have the flag and the cross, the cross flies higher.”
He added, “Reaching out to you is important to us.”
To find the commonality between conservatives and liberals, Jackson said, “Jesus was the liberator. His mission was to preach good news to the poor, heal the broken-hearted and set the captive free. You can’t let politics nullify religion.
“When I ran for president, I said my religion reaches beyond race,” Jackson pointed out.
Given his convictions toward building bridges across lingering gaps in race relations, Jackson was asked about the unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign of independent candidate Rick Tyler, an Ocoee resident who sought the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Chuck Fleischmann.
Tyler’s controversial campaign, centered around a “Make America White Again” theme that he featured on a short-lived, freestanding billboard, drew national attention. The message was denounced statewide, as well as across the nation, by news media outlets and a variety of elected officeholders and civic leaders.
On the day and night before the Nov. 6 elections, Tyler held a protest rally on the 25th Street public right of way in front of the Banner office. Tyler alleged the Cleveland newspaper had not been balanced and objective in its news coverage of his campaign, and he also challenged the publication’s editorial views, as well as its support of organizations like 100 Black Men of Bradley County and the Bradley County Chapter of the NAACP. His attacks came against both the newspaper and one of its editors.
Of Tyler’s campaign last year — whose theme was widely condemned as racist — Jackson weighed in.
“Under [U.S. Attorney General Jeff] Sessions and [President Ronald] Reagan, they removed the emphasis in the Department of Justice in pursuing white nationalist violent groups,” Jackson said. “They put their focus on so-called ending affirmative action to protect whites.”
He added, “If you build a wall and put seeds on both sides of the same strength, on one side of the wall there is ignorance and fear and hatred and violence. If the wall comes down, you can see each other as you should be seen.”
Making a point the white race was not the original population of the country, Jackson noted 50 million indigenous Indians were displaced “who were never white.”
“Columbus didn’t discover America, he found America,” Jackson said. “They engaged in a ruthless move against native Americans in 1615. They then brought in blacks in 1619. America was red and black with whites as a minority.
“The way to make America great is to honor the Declaration of Independence principles. We are all God’s children. We are all equals,” he pointed out. “To make America great is to choose our most moral moments. The Declaration of Independence was a very moral moment. The idea of ‘I have a dream’ is a high American moment. The idea of an African-American coming from the slave ships to the White House 50 years from Selma is a high American moment. We should take those high moments. The benefits you now have couldn’t happen in the ‘old white America.”
Jackson stressed, “You can’t go back to picking cotton any more. That’s over as a black industry. You can’t go back to tobacco. [Tyler] must know why Toyota is in Mississippi. He must know why [Volkswagen] is in Chattanooga. He must know why he can see the Grizzlies and the Titans. He must be able to measure how much better America is today.”
As for apparent race-based campaigns like Tyler’s, Jackson urged restraint coupled with proactive education.
“I think in a case like that, we should not return ‘fire with fire’ or ‘fear with fear,’” he said. “Let education confront ignorance. Let hope confront despair. Let love confront indifference. That’s what I would say.”
As far as Tyler’s right of freedom of speech to espouse his views, Jackson said in those cases, “You are not free to holler ‘fire’ in a theater. And you are free to hate, but you must know its consequences are not good. There are certain limits to freedom.”
Jackson said David Duke, the Klu Klux Klan leader who ran for state and federal offices in Louisiana, “Finally about ran out.”
He said of the current U.S. president, “Trump has resurrected white racial fear. He has resurrected the spirit of the Confederacy.”
Jackson added, “The white nationalist groups will have a march on Charlottesville, Va., soon. They feel emboldened by their fears and their false sense of supremacy.”
He said slogans such as Tyler’s “means the worst of us.”
“These are the best days we have ever had as a nation with our incomplete work,” Jackson said.
(Part 2 of this interview will appear in Monday’s edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner. It will feature Jackson’s views on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ongoing international tensions with North Korea and the Affordable Health Care Act.)
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