The Legacy Of Jesse Jackson|SPOTLIGHT

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    By George E. Curry
    Al Sharpton has patterned his career so closely after the Jesse Jackson model that he could be justifiably charged with identity theft. Like Jackson, he began wearing a Martin Luther King medallion around his neck. Like Jackson, he started his own civil rights organization. Like Jackson, he ran for president of the United States. Like Jackson, he now has his own radio and television shows. And like Jackson, he has become a confidante of the man who occupies the White House.

    At a ceremony last week at Georgetown University to celebrate Jesse Jackson’s 70th birthday and a half century in the Civil Rights Movement, Sharpton proved that he not only had studied Jesse Jackson, but the Civil Rights Movement just as carefully.

    “We try to go from ’68 to ’08 – like we leapfrogged from Dr. King to the president of the United States, Barack Obama,” Sharpton explained. Much of the progress in Black economic and political development between the time Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis and the election of Obama in 2008 should be largely attributed to Jackson, Sharpton suggested.

    Jesse Jackson was among the handful of top aides to Dr. King. When King was killed in Memphis, Ralph Abernathy succeeded King as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, but it was Jackson who assumed the mantle as Black America’s top civil rights leader.

    Jackson, who was selected by King to head Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, challenged major corporations to not only hire more Blacks, but to expand opportunities for African Americans to own automobile dealerships, fast food franchises and provide goods and services to Fortune 500 companies.

    Sharpton listed Richard Parsons, ex- CEO of Time Warner, and American Express CEO Ken Chenault as beneficiaries of Jackson’s early work.

    “There would not have been anybody in the corporate elite had it not been a movement led by Jackson to say you can’t put a glass ceiling on how far we can go,” Sharpton explained. “It wasn’t that Blacks weren’t qualified to be chairman of major corporations until the ’80s. There was no movement that had broken the ceiling.”

    Lifting the ceiling from national politics was also part of the Jesse Jackson legacy. Although other African-Americans had run for president – including Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm and Dick Gregory – none were as successful as Jackson in 1984 and 1988.

    Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who organized the appreciation event with his wife, Marcia Dyson, who served as Operation PUSH Trade Bureau’s first chief of staff, said what many in the audience were thinking: “Without Jesse Jackson, there would be no Barack Obama.”

    The Jackson-Obama relationship turned sour after Jackson was recorded saying that the then-presidential

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