Jesse Jackson's 'Post-Racial' Legacy for the Democratic Party

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

Jesse Jackson's 'Post-Racial' Legacy for the Democratic Party


Byline: Lanny J. Davis, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

I first heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak in a Chicago hotel ballroom in July 1968, shortly after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's assassination and just three months after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

We were an audience of largely white college students fresh from the anti-Vietnam War presidential campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Mr. Kennedy. By then we all knew that Mr. Jackson had been in the parking lot talking to Mr. King when the horrible shots rang out and Mr. King fell, mortally wounded.

The young reverend could have been angry, bitter, focused on America's shameful historic stain of racism and bigotry for about 200 years.

But he did not do that. He spoke for an hour, without notes, about the need for healing, for blacks and whites to work together on common issues. He talked eloquently about economic injustice that linked people of all colors in the America of the 1960s.

We gave him a standing ovation that wouldn't end. And I thought: This is a truly great leader, a truly great man, a truly inspiring man. And I haven't changed my mind since.

Through the years, wherever there was human suffering or injustice, black or white, poor or middle class, there was Jesse Jackson - on picket lines whenever workers, regardless of their color, needed help to achieve fair collective bargaining; or in Appalachia visiting poor whites living in poverty and hunger, just as Mr. Kennedy did.

Then in the early 1980s, he did what was the unthinkable for an African-American: He ran for president - first in 1984 and again in 1988.

But he did so, not as a black man, but as a traditional Democrat, carrying the banner of Franklin Roosevelt's progressive ideals. He talked about national health care, job creation and better schools for the middle class, as well as the inner city and poor rural whites.

In 1984, he won five primaries and caucuses and 3.5 million votes.

In 1988, he raised more than $17 million and won the caucuses in the almost entirely white states of Vermont and Alaska. Overall, he won 14 primaries and caucuses (including South Carolina, as former President Bill Clinton accurately stated), 7 million votes and 1,218.5 national convention delegates. He ran nationally ahead of Sen. Al Gore, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Paul Simon. And when he lost, he campaigned nonstop across the country for the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

Perhaps most important, from 1984 to 1988, he and his organization added more than 2 million new voters - the majority of them African-American. An important result: the 1985 election of L. Douglas Wilder as lieutenant governor of Virginia, the first African-American elected to a statewide office in Virginia's history; and four years later, Mr. …

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