The 'Wrongs' of 'Mr. Civil Rights'

Why Jesse Jackson's Political Comeback Seems Doomed

Keanna Peyton, a spokeswoman for Jackson, says Jackson will not respond to claims by his critics that his political and moral impact on the nation has been dwindling. "What I can speak to is the fact that we just wrapped up a 20-city tour of Georgia and the wonderful reception we received at each stop," Peyton offers. "Reverend Jackson has not allowed the opinions of some to affect his outreach to the masses."

For more than 30 years, Jesse Jackson has pontificated from the moral high ground. Last November, at the height of the Florida presidential ballot debacle, an outraged Jackson suggested that disenfranchised African Americans were poised to take to the streets to battle Republicans for stealing the election. Indeed, Jackson spoke with such authority that some blacks openly talked about "redefining the act of civil disobedience" and waging revolution.

Suddenly, everything seemed to go downhill. In a shameful flip-flop, Jackson, at the behest of worried financial contributors to his Wall Street Project, abruptly ceased his daily attacks on "president select" George W. Bush. In January, as the National Enquirer was about to publish the story about the out-of-wedlock baby, the man once dubbed "the moral conscience of America" acknowledged the extramarital affair. CNN piled on, dumping his Sunday talk show, Both Sides With Jesse Jackson. Corporate heads, who once cowered in boardrooms at the drop of Jackson's name, canceled meetings with him. And infighting among members of Jackson's own board at Rainbow/PUSH broke out.

Last month, during a meeting with core supporters at the giant, mostly black and Latino Local 1199, Jackson reportedly pleaded for financial assistance, claiming that he had lost at least $4 million in contributions. "He said he was going to cut back on staff," one PUSH insider told the Voice. That impending reality broke the morale of the staff, according to the insider. "People feel he hasn't been honest with them," says the source. "Some have raised questions: 'How are we going to approach corporations?' According to the Gallup Poll, Rainbow/PUSH has a 30 percent favorable rating among African Americans, who threw the bulk of their support behind groups like the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Prior to the disclosure that he had fathered an illegitimate child, support for Jackson among some civil rights groups, which allegedly benefited from companies Jackson has targeted in his crusade to increase minority representation in business, had been slipping. "The thing that has hurt him more than the outside baby mess is the allegation that he has been cutting backroom deals with major corporations and selling out all of us," says one New Jersey community activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

And, of course, as Jackson is being shunned by the people he claims he is working to empower, he is being reviled by right-wing critics who abhor his confrontation tactics—from boycott threats to protests against proposed mergers—and have demanded investigations into his financial dealings. "While Jackson says he is working to tear down the walls of 'economic apartheid,' his tactics bring to mind an old-style protection racket," says Noah Oppenheim, writing in The Weekly Standard.

The National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative watchdog group, has filed a complaint with the IRS asking for an audit of the Citizenship Education Fund, one of Jackson's organizations. The group claims that the Fund may be violating its tax-exempt status by pressuring corporations for donations through the threat of boycott or public protest.

"You know, nearly 20 of our staff members were approached by people offering them huge sums of money to talk about us," Jackson told Savoy's Johnson. "Some were approached outside of their homes at night and outside of their churches by people with cash money in hand. One was offered $3000. Another $5000. Another was offered $25,000. That's how they operate." Asked, "Who is 'they'?" Jackson replied that "the questions came from an extremist right-wing group in Virginia." Jackson bragged that "even with all of the attacks, the organization is stronger." He said he has relied on his faith during the crisis and "maybe the most routine expression is: 'And this too shall pass.' "

In Harlem, resentment of Jesse Jackson will not abate until he comes clean about the hoodwinking of Wyatt Tee Walker and his parishioners. "Please know that your relationship with me and Canaan cannot be repaired until you make a public or written apology," Walker concluded in his searing missive to Jackson. "I will not allow you to disrespect my person or the people I serve. Until such time, please do not call me or ask for my assistance in any manner."

Related document:

Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker's letter to Jesse Jackson.

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