Jesse Jackson, capitalist Wall Street coup: New economic approach has roots in old civil rights strategies.

January 20, 1998

THE STOCK MARKET was closed yesterday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first time that has happened since the federal holiday began 12 years ago. Getting Wall Street to do more than observe a moment of silence is the most significant result so far of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson's latest campaign. There is much, however, that still needs to be done.

Mr. Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition opened a Wall Street office last year. With Salomon Smith Barney Inc. and the New York Stock Exchange, it co-sponsored a three-day diversity conference last week. Speakers included President Clinton and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. But other than raise some $500,000 for Rainbow/Push, the event yielded little to alter business as usual.

Most of the black faces seen in a Wall Street office are usually typing, delivering mail or cleaning the floors. Only 600 blacks are among this nation's 90,000 stock brokers. The percentage of minorities employed in the securities industry has actually decreased since 1990 from more than 10 percent to about 8 percent. Such numbers brought Mr. Jackson to Wall Street, but his presence alone won't change them.

The diversity conference, helped by the Clinton administration's interest, owes a measure of success to discrimination cases lost by major corporations. Texaco and Smith Barney settled class-action suits; Merrill Lynch apparently is negotiating another settlement. Wall Street would prefer to work with Mr. Jackson than be picketed for alleged discrimination.

Decades ago, economic boycotts were the tools for getting companies to hire black people. Mr. Jackson has learned that lawsuits and bad publicity, or even the threat of such actions, move Wall Street in the '90s. They also enable him to distance himself from the Afro-coifed rabble-rouser he used to be and display a new image as a pinstripe suit-wearing insider.

Mr. Jackson still considers himself a mass-movement leader. As such, he should seek commitments that benefit more than the handful of minority firms now getting Wall Street business to settle discrimination suits. The doors to opportunity must be opened to people who want meaningful roles in the financial world.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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