Jackson rallies Rainbow Coalition

April 09, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In the whitewashed basement of a church in Annapolis, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson rallied his supporters last night to rebuild the Maryland Rainbow Coalition.

The day after he withdrew from the race to succeed the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks as head of the NAACP, Mr. Jackson made it clear that he had not lost stature as a powerful leader.

His hourlong speech on racism in professional sports was interrupted numerous times by applause and shouts of approval from a crowd of more than 60 at Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church in Maryland's capital.

Mr. Jackson urged the audience to continue fighting institutionalized racism and to mobilize the rest of the state into "mass activism."

To reach that goal, he announced the creation of a steering committee to revitalize the Maryland chapter of the Rainbow Coalition. It will be chaired by Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden of Annapolis, state Del. Salima Siler Marriott of Baltimore and state Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah of Prince George's County.

"Let us now seize this moment and build a powerful organization in this state," said Mr. Jackson, a two-time contender for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party.

He also renewed his criticism of the professional sports establishment for failing to hire and promote blacks and women to upper management positions.

On Monday, while baseball fans streamed to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for Opening Day, Mr. Jackson led a picket line to protest the minority hiring practices of the major leagues. His group, the Rainbow Commission for Fairness in Athletics, marched with signs that said "Fairness Beyond the Field" and "Now we have Marge Schott."

Mr. Jackson stepped up his attack of unfair hiring practices by professional sports teams after the controversy over racist comments by Mrs. Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds. On Feb. 3, Major League Baseball fined Mrs. Schott $25,000 and suspended her for one year after it was revealed that she had hTC made derogatory remarks about blacks, Jews and Asians.

Last night, Mr. Jackson emphasized that the controversy illustrated the deeply rooted problems with racism and sexism in professional sports. Minority representation in the front office is only 17 percent and top management is all white, he said.

But Mr. Jackson said the "fundamental issue is not baseball" but justice.

He compared the protest against baseball to Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. Following a boycott, the bus segregation ordinance was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge. Eventually, the nation adopted laws giving blacks equal access to public accommodations, Mr. Jackson said.

"The assumption here is, you're going to take it, you're going to keep going to the back of the bus," he said. Referring to the Orioles, he said, "All that we're asking of the team is a plan for affirmative action."

The church basement was lined with tables laden with home-cooked food and a cake, hastily prepared yesterday afternoon when word spread through Annapolis that Mr. Jackson was on his way.

"I'm so excited," said Jacqueline Matthews, arranging the hors d'oeuvres before Mr. Jackson arrived. "I've only seen him from afar."

Carlesa Finney brought her 4-year-old daughter, Carmera Thomas, to see the man they have watched together on television. Ms. Finney, who is running for a school board seat in Anne Arundel County, said she was inspired by his speech.

"This is my first time seeing him in person," she said. "I think what he's saying is very, very true. Now is the time for action."

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