- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s first bid for the presidency. Running for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1984 and 1988, he was the most successful candidate of any black American until 2008, when Barack Obama captured the party’s nomination.

Mr. Jackson, an associate of Martin Luther King who served as a D.C. “shadow” senator from 1991 to 1996, is founding president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the result of a 1996 merger of two advocacy groups.

In a recent interview at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, Mr. Jackson, 68, addressed topics that included Wall Street, subprime lending and racial discrimination. In the wake of Mr. Obama’s ascendancy to the White House, Mr. Jackson also discussed the direction of black leadership as it is rooted in the black church experience.

“It represents the high point of the maturity of our leadership,” Mr. Jackson said. “Our struggle was never for blacks only, however. It always had the broader view. The 1954 Supreme Court decision brought down the wall for all of America. In 1965, blacks couldn’t vote in Selma. White women couldn’t sit on juries. And farmers, who couldn’t pay poll taxes, couldn’t vote.

“While the movement had a black face on it, as in John Lewis and the marches, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, two Jews and a black, died; Viola Liuzzo, a mother from Detroit, died; Jimmie Lee Jackson died. We died together.”

Voting rights

“In 1970, the 18-year-old got the right to vote. That comes out of Selma. It was not just black 18-year-olds. In 1974, we got the right to vote where you went to school - residency. If you lived in Washington and you’re in school in Georgia, you had to come home to vote. The court ruled that was lack of access. So, now you can vote. This year in Iowa, whole dormitories can become precincts - the right to vote where you go to school. That’s Selma. The next year, we won bilingual, which opened up for more than English-only [ballots].”

Presidential politics

“When I ran for the presidency in 1984, under winner-takes-all, my delegate vote was not in proportion to my actual count. We fought to reduce the threshold and get proportionality - that means you could lose the state but still get your share of delegates. Under the Republican rule of winner-takes-all, if Sen. John McCain, say, wins California, New York, Ohio or Pennsylvania and Texas, he’s the winner. We democratize democracy so that the 15 percenter could have a delegate, not just the 50 plus one.”

President Obama

“When President Obama ran, the bloody walls were down. And he ran across a bridge. I would say a 54-year tag-team race. He ran a brilliant last lap of that race. He was the result of this process.”

Declining significance of race

“And also the social dimension of America has changed. In the early days, we had to fight to get the right to go to the University of Alabama. Who’s No. 1 in football - Alabama? When Alabama plays Georgia Tech now, it’s not uniform color versus skin color because we’ve also changed the social dynamics, relieving fears. We did a difficult thing to learn to survive apart. Now we’re learning to live together. We’re in the early morning of that experiment. We’re getting there. So, we’re really growing.

“To put it another way, as I sometimes try to measure where we are in the political and social sense - Aug. 28, 1954, Emmett Till gets killed. The guys who killed him walked around for 40 years and nobody knew who did it. That couldn’t happen today with Rep. John Conyers as chair of the House Judiciary [Committee]. He would set up a hearing. But we couldn’t vote then. Aug. 20, 1963, ‘I Have a Dream,’ the broken promise would be honored 45 years later - Aug. 28, 2008, in Denver, Colorado, [at the Democratic National Convention]. One sees that these struggles in the trenches never stopped.”

Wall Street

“Now, on the other hand, we have bailed out Wall Street who refuses to reinvest in America and lend to those who made the bailout possible. But that’s a different kind of fight. One has to say when David [A. Paterson] is governor of New York and Deval Patrick is governor of Massachusetts, the wall is coming down versus being built. But when you close the plants and turn the lights out, we all look alike in the dark. If you close the plant down in Detroit and Flint and take the plant to China, we are all in the dark. Our leadership, we’re growing politically.

“So the first phase was to get free. Now many of our freedom allies are not our equality allies. Equality involves sharing resources. Getting us the right to vote was a way to end indecency. The right to use the toilet was a way to end indecency.”

Subprime lending

“The day that President Obama had the beer summit with Harvard professor [Henry Louis] Gates Jr. and [Cambridge Police] Sgt. [James] Crowley, because of an incident of profiling, a lawsuit was filed against a major bank. It was accused of race profiling, targeting and steering blacks and browns toward subprime loans. Blacks and browns making $100,000 got a subprime high-cost loan, and whites making $50,000 got a prime low-cost loan. Thats the difference today.”

• Joseph Young is a writer living in Washington.

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