October 13, 1995 in Nation/World

Jesse Jackson Loses Center Stage

Vanessa Gallman Knight-Ridder
 

Two African-American men recently have captured the national political spotlight. And for the first time in a long while, the Rev. Jesse Jackson is not one of them.

One is retired Gen. Colin Powell, embraced by many whites as a presidential candidate who could unify the country. The other is Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, known for his anti-white and anti-Semitic views, who will lead a national gathering of black men here on Monday.

“There’s plenty of room in the middle between those two,” said a Jackson spokeswoman, Theresa Caldwell, dismissing the idea that Jackson is being squeezed out politically.

But Jackson, founder of the National Rainbow Coalition, first must get a firm hold on some new realities, some supporters and advisers said. They said the 30-year civil rights activist and two-time presidential candidate needs to rethink his strategy at a time when more people - blacks and whites - reject government as the solution to many social problems.

Jackson, 53, has brooded for the last year about getting little respect from the Clinton administration, which he calls “Republican lite.” His 30-mile protest march to House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Georgia district in May attracted only a few hundred people.

Now, Powell has the potential to be the true “rainbow” candidate. And, if Monday’s march goes well, Farrakhan would be the grass-roots mobilizer Jackson often threatens to be.

“Jesse is having a difficult time reconciling the fact that he is not ‘the black leader’ anymore,” said David Bositis, analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which focuses on issues related to blacks. “He had his time on the stage in 1984 and ‘88, and they were major events and positive change. But that time is over.”

Jackson, who did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, has never been easy to dismiss from the public stage. He remains the loudest and probably the strongest voice for government help to the poor. His various programs include ones aimed at mentoring troubled children and getting parents more involved in their children’s schools.

In surveys of blacks, he always comes out as the most respected leader. He is sought after by a predominantly white city like Wichita to give motivational speeches to school children and city employees. And he is astute enough to be the first black leader to call for “racial healing” after the divisive O.J. Simpson verdict.

“I hear the theory that Jesse is off the radar screen,” said his longtime political adviser, Ronald Walters. “But I don’t see it in the polls or in the people.”

Still, Jackson has missed opportunities to seize the momentum, analysts said. He has been sporadic about preaching personal responsibility - a major theme for both Powell and Farrakhan. And he moves from one good idea to the next without effectively organizing to follow through.

Mulling a third campaign, Jackson has been rattled by the ascent of both Powell and Farrakhan.

In a New Yorker profile of Powell, Jackson was quoted as saying, “Whites always want to create the black of their choice as our leader.” He also questioned Powell’s civil rights credentials: “But have we ever seen him on a picket line? Is he for unions? Or for civil rights? Or for anything?”

Jackson has since become more conciliatory and has described his earlier campaigns - which attracted unexpected white support - as laying the ground for Powell enthusiasm.

As for Monday’s march, Jackson kept his distance until organizers agreed to broaden the focus to include political issues and to allow more people, including Jackson, on the program and on the posters.

The fact that Jackson, like many other civil rights leaders, negotiated a role in an event led by Farrakhan - whose first foray in national politics was in providing security for Jackson’s 1984 campaign - unnerves some.

“That’s a sign of how bad things are - when Jesse goes to a Farrakhan event as an honored guest,” said Russell L. Adams, head of Howard University’s African-American studies program, who does not support the march. “He’s in a helluva fix. He’s at the party, but the person paying the band is Farrakhan.”

But Walters said that it is unfair to compare Jackson’s cross-racial appeal to Farrakhan’s limited influence.

“Minister Farrakhan is boxed in far more than Jesse,” he said. “Will this march change the opinions of the white community toward him? No. The civil rights leaders? No. The people who have the doubts about him today will have doubts about him tomorrow.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO’S ATTENDING, WHO’S NOT? Here is an early look at who will be attending Monday’s Million Man March:

ORGANIZERS Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. The Rev. Benjamin Chavis, former NAACP chairman.

ATTENDING The following people support the march and will be in attendance on Monday as observers or speakers: Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who will greet marchers Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson The Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and longtime civil rights activist; close ally of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Rev. Al Sharpton, controversial New York activist Maya Angelou, who has written a special poem commemorating the event Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955 launched the modern civil rights movement Malik Yoba, star of Fox Television series “New York Undercover” Brand Nubian, rap artists

WOMEN LENDING SUPPORT Although women originally weren’t invited, the following black women leaders have lent their support: C. Delores Tucker, chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women, and leader in the crusade against gangsta rap. Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women

NOT ATTENDING Groups and individuals who oppose the march or who won’t be attending: Retired Gen. Colin Powell considered an invitation from Farrakhan, but his book tour conflicted with the march. The NAACP and the Urban League: Organization leaders refuse to lend official support, though they acknowledge that individual members and chapters will be attending. Mary Frances Berry, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: In a recent letter to the editor, Berry said she did not support the march, and did not “trust Louis Farrakhan or Benjamin Chavis to lead us to the Promised Land.” Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition: Says Farrakhan is a “demagogue” and that the march is tantamount to “declaring a legal holiday for Farrakhan.” The National Baptist Convention U.S.A, the nation’s largest black denomination, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the second largest denomination: Both groups angrily denied Jesse Jackson’s earlier claims that they had supported the march. National Baptist Convention leader the Rev. Henry J. Lyons even called Jackson’s comments an “absolute lie.” - Knight-Ridder

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHO’S ATTENDING, WHO’S NOT? Here is an early look at who will be attending Monday’s Million Man March:

ORGANIZERS Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. The Rev. Benjamin Chavis, former NAACP chairman.

ATTENDING The following people support the march and will be in attendance on Monday as observers or speakers: Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who will greet marchers Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson The Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and longtime civil rights activist; close ally of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Rev. Al Sharpton, controversial New York activist Maya Angelou, who has written a special poem commemorating the event Rosa Parks, civil rights pioneer whose refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus in 1955 launched the modern civil rights movement Malik Yoba, star of Fox Television series “New York Undercover” Brand Nubian, rap artists

WOMEN LENDING SUPPORT Although women originally weren’t invited, the following black women leaders have lent their support: C. Delores Tucker, chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women, and leader in the crusade against gangsta rap. Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women

NOT ATTENDING Groups and individuals who oppose the march or who won’t be attending: Retired Gen. Colin Powell considered an invitation from Farrakhan, but his book tour conflicted with the march. The NAACP and the Urban League: Organization leaders refuse to lend official support, though they acknowledge that individual members and chapters will be attending. Mary Frances Berry, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: In a recent letter to the editor, Berry said she did not support the march, and did not “trust Louis Farrakhan or Benjamin Chavis to lead us to the Promised Land.” Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition: Says Farrakhan is a “demagogue” and that the march is tantamount to “declaring a legal holiday for Farrakhan.” The National Baptist Convention U.S.A, the nation’s largest black denomination, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the second largest denomination: Both groups angrily denied Jesse Jackson’s earlier claims that they had supported the march. National Baptist Convention leader the Rev. Henry J. Lyons even called Jackson’s comments an “absolute lie.” - Knight-Ridder


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