On the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday we are joined in our studio by another renowned civil rights leader: the Rev. Jesse Jackson. [includes transcript]
Today, January 15, is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. He was born in 1929. He would be 75 years old today.
It’s become a TV ritual: Every year in mid-January, around the time of his birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about "the slain civil rights leader."
The remarkable thing about this annual review of King’s life is that several years — his last years — are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.
What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).
An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.
Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV.
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.
By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 — a year to the day before he was murdered — King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."
Later, we will play an excerpt of that speech. But first, we are going to speak with another renowned civil rights leader–Reverend Jesse Jackson. He was with Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel the day King was assassinated. Rev. Jackson joins us in our firehouse studios today.
This past Sunday, Rev. Jackson called for major corporations to begin investing at least 5 percent of its assets in minority-owned investment firms. Speaking in Harlem, Jackson noted how none of IBM’s $66 billion pension fund or General Motors $100 billion pension fund is managed by African-American money managers.
- Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader. He is the founder of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, a progressive organization fighting for social change.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now! Truly in a firehouse, serving the community in a different way now, as a Community Media Center. Can you go back to be that day? Reverend Martin Luther King would have been 75 years ago — years old on April 4, 1968, he was gunned down on a balcony.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: I really want to go back to his last birthday, because it is a challenge for we who yet live. On the morning of January 15, 1968, he had breakfast with his family around 8:00 that morning. Around 10:00, he came to church in blue jeans and a windbreaker jacket and he convened our national staff and had a multiracial coalition. There was Al Loewenstein, with Jewish allies from New York, there were some Hispanic allies, some of Chavez’s group out of the southwest Texas. We never met each other before. Native Americans, some Appalachians whites, some labor and some blacks. There were about 50 or 60 of us met, focused on how to lead a massive march on Washington, perhaps civil disobedience, for a job and income or health care for all Americans. He was challenging public policy priorities, and knew it would require a multiracial coalition to do it. Around 1:00, a friend came in and brought a cake. Since it was his birthday, we wanted the celebration. And then he and Loewenstein began to conduct a workshop in the afternoon, about how to deal with the war in Vietnam. He though the war on poverty had been shipped to the war in Vietnam. So–he spent his own last birthday on this issue of public policy, jobs, income, justice and health care and peace in the world.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And interestingly, a lot of the media, like the New York Times, once he came out against the war in Vietnam, condemned him as being irresponsible and, you know, a lot of people are not aware of the sharp criticism that came to Dr. King as he began to — began to link the issues of foreign policy with civil rights.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: He was killed at 39. Discredited by the government, seen by FBI as the number one threat to American security. He was on the — there was going to be a crackdown in America because of a terrorist threat. He was on that list to be immediately arrested and so the media had a certain kinship with the government, a position that Dr. King put them in a difficult bind. I should never forget our last staff meeting before going to Memphis, really. And he had been agonizing on the terrible attacks by the media and by the government. At the time, they some point began to gnaw at your spirits. And he and his wife, and Mrs. Abernathy and Reverend Abernathy and some of them had been together three or four days, he said I have a migraine headache, saying I’m grappling and I feel a sense of aloneness because one of his board members had written a letter to the press, saying if Dr. King should go to Washington, it could become violent. You have all these attacks. He said some of my former classmates were with me and fighting, but now they are bacKing off because of the war. And he said I thought once about turning back. He said but then I couldn’t turn back because Harriet Tubman, Dubois, Frederick Douglas, they wouldn’t accept me–I wouldn’t, I couldn’t turn back.
And I remember someone saying Dr. King, everything is going to be all right. And he said, No–be quiet. Don’t say be peaceful when there is no peace. And then he said secondly, I thought maybe that because there was certain disunity in circle, if I fasted to the point of death, then maybe our coalition, all of us could come back together to lease out our friendship for a show of unity. And then he said we have to turn a minus into a plus. We can’t stop. It was like he preached himself out of this kind of depression-type thing and it was so paralleled with Jesus saying let this cup pass from me. And as he agonized, the disciples slept and then he said "By thy will it shall be done." There is a certain poetry to how he handled that last staff meeting. And how he came out on an up, determined to go into Washington and deal with the issues of economic priorities and peace.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talKing to Reverend Jesse Jackson in our firehouse studio here at Downtown Community Television on this what would have been the 75th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. The issues of poverty, the issues of war. Can you talk about why King was in Memphis?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: The workers were fighting for the right to organize, collective bargaining asked me — at that time, we were quite young. We were there to organize workers because we were organizing workers who were worKing out wages. He knew even then that we had to ultimately democratize access to capital, fight for workers to have a place at the table, stop predatory exploitation and racial reconciliation. In the practical sense, because if the whites in the South vote their economic interests and not their racial fears, and blacks vote their potential, that combination can change the government policy. South Carolina, for example, today has 75,000 jobs lost in the last three years. 75,000 jobs. 150,000 children in poverty. 30% of all workers make less than the poverty level. If those workers vote their economic hopes and not their racial fears, then you change the course of South Carolina and the South. And that’s why he knew that if you were a worKing poor person, pulling for a tax cut for the top 1%, you get a small tax cut, but a big job cut and a big benefit cut, it’s not in your best interest. He was maKing that case 35 years ago.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now you mentioned the issue of the economic imperative that developed in the civil rights movement. Now for several years you have been involved and you’re here today, obviously, around what you call the Wall Street Project, where you sit down with a variety of corporate leaders to talk about issues that might affect African Americans and other minorities. Some people have criticized or wondered what you’re doing sitting down with all of these folks — many are involved in some sort kind exploitation or another. What are you attempting to do with this project?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: I think — this money is our money. It is not about those guys. It’s about our money. There’s $7 trillion in mutual assets. One of every three Americans are investors in the Mutuals. It’s the people’s money. We are between our work patterns as workers, as consumers, investors, taxpayers. It’s not "the guys" money, it is like our money. 10 companies control $3 trillion. They determine what money is invested. They determine where money is shipped. They determine who is President because they leverage that money to determine who the politicians will be. All the black and brown combined on the management is $5.5 billion. $5 billion with a b, $7 trillion as in a t and the top 10 are all facing the threat of jail and lawsuits by Eliot Spitzer because the manipulation of the people’s money. So, first we’ve got to demystify Wall Street. And then there is 401-k moneys. Pinch them. Yale and Harvard has an $18 billion pension endowment and gets $265 million a year for government research contracts. I mean, Yale is like $15 billion. Preston $8, Stanford $10 billion. Boeing has $53 billion in pensions. It’s the workers’ money, you know. And now a $17 billion contract is facing ethical problems because of the way it was handled. So, the management has rolled off the top. I think in this fourth stage of our struggle, beyond slavery, beyond legal segregation, beyond the right to vote, access to capital, industry and technology, the same forces that used the divested pension moneys to end apartheid in South Africa must now fight to get invested money to end apartheid in our own country.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What are you trying to get them to do?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: We want to set a 5% goal for minority money managers. We must have access to more of that capital to determine how you green line the red line zones. The difference between all the money in Manhattan and Wall Street at the other end is investment. And an apartheid zone is defined in some sense by denial. Denial of capital. Denial of investment. Denial of jobs. Denial of the money for an educational tax. Denial, denial, denial. You break up denial when you shift the flow of capital. And I think we’ve spent so much time focusing just on the government level and — but in these times, the private sector is determining government policy, rather than government policy determining private sector behavior because the money is so — that’s why — I don’t want any government that rules on fundraising. I raised $300 million just from guys getting all this wealth. Idea of checks and balances on wealth–the people’s wealth, I might add–is critical.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for 60 seconds. We are talKing with Reverend Jesse Jackson here in our studio on this what would have been the 75th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. Today President Bush will visit his grave. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez, who’s not only co-host and columnist at the "New York Daily News," but President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. As Reverend Jesse Jackson calls for an increase in minority money managers, you just had a meeting with the heads of all of the networks, calling for higher representation of people of color in the newsrooms of this country, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah. We just had a big meeting last Friday with the heads of not only all the major television network, but also all the major TV companies that values subsidiaries, like M.S. Broadcasting, Clear Channel, Fox, Tribune, all of the various companies to discuss this alarming trend. I’m not sure if Reverend Jackson is aware, but for the last two years, the numbers of minorities worKing in broadcasting television and radio has been plummeting, dropping rapidly,
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: We need two things. We need more inclusion, but we also need to have the strength to determine priorities. For example, if we want to discuss the impact of $7 trillion in mutual assets, of which blacks and browns are substantial investors, to redirect that flow to green line gathering barrier zones, that may not be of interest to the media establishment and they may have a black or brown person that can’t cover that story. We need more in the face. We need more of the power to determine priority of coverage.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Also, ownership has been decreasing. The number of black-owned television stations has drop drad mat cli. Radio, the number of radio owners who are minority have been dropping. So at the ownership level as well as at the employment level, the media is going in the opposite direction.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: But in even context. When the government developed the science of radio in 1920, they gave all the stations a way by lotto to white males only. No black or brown nor female could compete. By 1940, they developed the science of television. The government gave away, they did the research, all of these stations by lotto to whites only. They would send them something called the table. By that time, we had the right to vote for seven years. For example, a person was in queens, the cable zone, but couldn’t get the capital so they had to split the 50/50 deal with Time Warner. They hood to go to 63 banks to get a local radio station in New York. The point is, at the end of the day, this access to our share of capital for equity investment is the key to owning radio and TV and automobile and the whole range of industry and technology.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But clearly what’s happened is since the 1996 telecommunications act and the increasing —
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: And the concentration of ownership s you are having the virtual elimination of minority ownership in the media and obviously the Bush administration, you mentioned the Bush administration before, and president Bush is going to visit Dr. King’s grave today, your sense of the impact of the Bush administration on civil rights in this country?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Just before I answer that, in 19 — the reason why these people don’t have the radio station, called a tax certificate. All the stations have been given away to white males only. You could then sell them to a black or brown and get a tax certificate. That’s how they got in. The very first act committed by the Gingrich congress was to eliminate the tax certificates. Further reinforcement, a monopoly by those who had already been given the stations in the first place. And so we need to repeal that legislation because the tax certificate becomes a way for blacks and browns and women to get into ownership of major media. Essentially, the knack president Bush is going to Dr. King’s grave site today, he has three blacks in his cabinet and says his number one Supreme court justice is Clarence Thomas, President Bush does not support affirmative action. He is against every program Dr. King stood for. President Bush in the last three years — neither Bush nor Ashcroft have met one time with organized labor, the black caucus, the Hispanic caucus, NAACP — leadership conference on civil rights. It’s all smoke in mirrors. Last week, the leave no children behind. His legislations is leaving children behind. He cuts their health care. It really is the most anti-civil rights administration we’ve known in a half century.
AMY GOODMAN: And looKing at the Atlanta journal constitution of yesterday, it says president Bush’s visit today observe what would have been the reverend Martin Luther King’s 75th birthday isn’t sitting well with area tribute organizers. They say Bush invited himself to their party and will potentially force the cancellation of some events due to security concerns. What’s more, they say, Bush will profit from a fundraiser he will piggyback with a visit to Atlanta. About 3:45, the president will lay a wreath on the late civil rights leader’s crypt at the national historic site. The president announced his visit on Friday. But the M.L.K. March committee, a group of civil rights area activists who worked with King, say they worked for months on a program to honor the leader at a church across the street. The reverend said they told us that the secret service wanted us out by 2:00 p.m. We’re not leaving the church. The Ebenezer program from 9:00 to 4:00 focuses on human rights. A spokesperson for the White House says the president’s visit has been well communicated to the King Center. The nonprofit King Center is governed by a board of directors, state representative Tyrone Brook, a Democrat of Atlanta, says Bush’s planners should have given the visit more thought. He says he has the right to come, but there should have been some consideration of what’s going on locally. That is quite insulting. That is not the appropriate way to honor Dr. King.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: More and more symbolism. Last year, he hung a picture of Dr. King in the White House. And he sent lawyers to capitol hill to try to make affirmative action illegal, a way to even the playing field. More and more symbolism. A big announcement of $15 billion for aids to Africa money. It ain’t got there yet. And I was — Congressman Cummins, Chair of the Black Caucus, this year at the convention, we saw President Bush and he said I’d like you to meet with the black caucus. I’ll meet with you one by one by one. His refusal — the closed door policy of civil rights leadership is an insult. NAACP has met with every president since Warren Harding, but not one time with George Bush.
JUAN GOZNALEZ: Let me turn to another issue of the presidential race. You have not yet endorsed any of the candidates running for president.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: I have not.
JUAN GOZNALEZ: Your son obviously has been a big supporter, early supporter of Howard Dean. Your sense of what the presidential race looks like right now and the various democratic candidates.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Well, it is interesting that it’s almost a kind of Mad Disease Dean out there right now. Attack, attack, attack. We see candidates getting one-liners on taking a shot at Dean, but not asserting their own view. When I ran in 1988, I put forth the idea of a new South Africa policy, Free Mandela. No matter what my question was, that was my answer. In the middle east policy, I said a let’s talk policy, rather than no-talk policy. It was a concern at that time for a drug policy, given its impact upon urban American youth. I chose not to attack Mondale and Hart over and over again because you must run under control with one eye on competition to one and one eye on cooperation because the primaries is an interesting game. The bid game is the interleague play after the convention. Now southern democrats have lost their way in this attack, attack, attack and they unwittingly are doing commercials for Bush. They ought to be certificating their own plan to address health insurance. Their own plan to deal with how you stop the seepage, the hemorrhaging of jobs out of the economy. Their own plans to educate our youth. And I’ve been disappointed with some of the negativism in it. Having said that, Dean has weathered those storms, it seems, at least so far.
There’s been a lot of bloodletting. Last year, you remember the largest demonstration in rural history against the invasion of Iraq, at that time many of the other competitors say we’re kind of against the war, but we give Bush the right to do it while they were hedging their bets. He went against the war and that gave him an edge among literally tense of thousands of activists that became a point. He challenged Bush’s tax policy, which many of them voted for, which enabled the top 1% to get a huge tax gift and then go offshore and not pay taxes and then get no-bid contracts. He took that stuff head on. I think that’s what gave him that attraction among the voters and most of them have been fighting since that time making up lost ground. I think people like Gephardt is a good man. His focus on labor is the right thing to do. Clarke has an interesting resume. He may be benefiting from the bloodletting at this time. But at this point, Dean is the guy that’s in front. I think the reasons have to do with the message, the money, infrastructure and timing.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Your son, the Congressman Jesse Jackson has endorsed Dean. You were with Wesley Clarke at your expo at the Wall Street Fair. Does that have significance?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: No, it does not. Wesley Clarke asked to come by the Wall Street Project and see us in New Hampshire and I’ve talked this week with Kerry, Dean, others of them. It was not in any means an endorsement. I sought to keep communication with all of them. Because I think above the bloodletting, someone those keep the focus, the focus, the focus on fair tax policy and fair rate policy. And I want to be in some way to help, once the bloodletting is over, help pull these pieces back together.
AMY GOODMAN: The significance of Carol Moseley-Braun pulling out today?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Well, she had a message, but did not have the money nor the infrastructure. The biggest significance is that her endorsing Dean will have an impact in South Carolina. It won’t have much of an impact in Iowa or New Hampshire, but I have met with many women in South Carolina last week. And some workers. But lots of black women who were supporting Carol Moseley Braun and I went to Columbia, Florence, Georgetown, Charleston, Greenville, where they’ve been losing these jobs and basic civil rights and liberties. So, if that group — Dean was already slightly in the lead. He should be worth some points to his campaign.
JUAN GOZNALEZ: In terms of presidential race, the Republicans for many years, ever since Nixon, have been using what some call the southern strategy. Basically winning over white voter, conservative Democratic voters in the south who have opposed civil rights for many years and been able to fashion this huge majority in southern states now in presidential race after presidential race. There are some people that are saying that the Democratic Party should stop trying to win the south when it has no chance of winning the south. But develop a whole new strategy, a southwest strategy, to attempt to win over the huge growing Latino vote in the southwest to one that obviously President Bush is going to be seeking one way or another.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: I don’t agree with that. You can’t write off the south. First of all, look at the southern vote. This kind of anti-Martin Luther King backlash is a lose southern race strategy, in some instance run by senator Trent Lott, President Reagan.
JUAN GOZNALEZ: Again when Gingrich was in here.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: And Gingrich. The point was that Martin Luther King has changed the south, changed our way of life. We’ve got to sit with them and go to school with them and they even have the right to vote and put them in this political position. The move to kind of a anti-Martin Luther King civil rights struggle was to play into the fears of whites. Reagan’s speech in Mississippi, 1980, was ?e’re back,? for the signal. ?e are back.? And in some sense, the kind of anti-civil rights drove many whites into voting their racial fierce and pain against their economic interest. I spoke to a few thousand workers in North Carolina a couple of week ago. They were weeping because they went to work one day and the plant was closed. When the plants are closed, jobs gone, no benefits, can’t pay their house payment, can’t pay their car. Help us. I said many of you vowed for Bush. They said, yeah, but we want your help. I said you voted for the right to not be at the table. You know? You voted for the right-to-work laws. You voted for the right of the company to determine your destiny and closed the plant without notice.
The point is the big challenge of the south is to keep working on getting more and more whites to vote their economic dream and not their racial fears. Put it this way. In South Carolina last year, the governor’s race, 300,000 blacks didn’t vote. 260,000 did vote. More didn’t than did. The numbers are there. In Georgia, lost the senate race, Max Cleland by 30,000 votes. 600,000 blacks unregistered. So, the unregistered black votes and the registered who have despaired, that combination can change the south precipitously. When I ran in 1984, we thought we couldn’t gain the senate back because Reagan was at the height of his popularity. Because in the 1984 campaign, we put on two million more voters. We regained North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas. We took the senate back in 1986 because of the southern — the black vote and the remnant of the white vote. So we should not write the south off. But we should expand to the southwest.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s report of Cynthia McKinney now trying to reclaim her seat, take it back in Georgia. The "Atlanta Journal Constitution" reporting that this week.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: She is awfully young to lose that seat and she has the will to fight back. A big challenge in the south now is to revive the spirit of the southern voter to vote and to vote in their interests. A combination of people who can no longer vote because of jail time and unregistered voters and uninspired — we’re losing big races by that margin. That’s why I’m spending my energy with the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, for the registration, for the education, and for the inspiration. We won in 2000. We really can win again. But I tell you, we have more with which to fight now. The net loss of jobs in every state. Poverty has increased. A jobless recovery is a swimming pool without water. You can’t dive in that.
AMY GOODMAN: Upon reflection now, do you think Al Gore was wrong to pull you back from major protests in the streets in Florida when the voter rolls were scrubbed, were purged, many of those taken off those voter roles were legitimate African American voters who lost their —
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Democrats made a big mistake. A, by not using Florida-based lawyers like Willie Gary, who is indigenous and relates to the judges in that system as opposed to bringing Washington and New York lawyers. And a big mistake by not fighting with great fervor. I mean, many Democratic congress people, senators, laid back to watch the Republicans fight. Pulling back — I did not pull back, refused to pull back because I sensed what the stakes were. Now when they went to Washington, the senators in either of them, whether it was Kerry, Lieberman, any of them had that right on the floor to ask for a hearing. They got called for political incorrectness and they did not fight back in Florida or in Washington and they got losses.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up today, your thoughts back at the Lorraine Motel. You ran to Dr. Martin Luther King just after he was assassinated.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Such a day of trauma. I had been — we were — a little under tension because the demonstrations were focused on supporting the workers had been undercut by saboteurs. The media plays on — Dr. King no longer controls the people. The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. But then our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. But through all of that, by pulling together, we had our collective strength, shared pain and kept on fighting back. He spend much of the — on April 3, he said to me, I want you to go and speak for me tonight. I don’t feel that well. That was at that time mason temple church. I couldn’t think of a line literally. It was like running on empty. So we went together, the Reverend and I. We got to the church. It was raining very hard that night. And we got to the side. People saw us and began to scream. So, Jeff said, "They think Martin is behind us. We should call him." We went around to the front of the church at the pay telephone and we called Bernard Lee on the phone and said Dr. King, you must come. It’s a big deal. He said I’ll come. And that’s when he came. And in that seeing he gave a very formal address. The "I’ve been to the mountain’s top," it came out of that context. So, the next day, we spend much of it in the room talKing about going to Washington. And the campaign. And all that went was around 6:00, we were on our way to Billy Kyle’s home for dinner and then Ben Branch who was there for me had been with uses in Chicago about a month before and he said, Jesse, you’re coming across the courtyard. You don’t have the time. We going to dinner. I said a tie is not a prerequisite for eating, an appetite. He said you’re crazy and we laughed. And he raised up. And he said, ?h? that’s the last we heard, there was this ringing shot that hit him in the neck and went down and apparently blew his heart out. He never knew he was hit. But I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray. A very painful day. As many of us think about the Dr. King "I have a Dream" terms, he finished high school at 15. Finished college at 19. Finished seminary at 22. And killed at 39. A whole lot of living in 39 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jesse Jackson. Thank you very much for being with us.
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON: Thank you, guys. ?? ? ?¡: