Celebration, challenge

Jackson calls Obama administration 'a chance to start over'

November 17, 2008|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

In his first public address since Barack Obama was elected president, when cameras captured tears of joy and reflection streaming down his face, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson called yesterday for sober celebration and solid economic action plans before members of West Baltimore's Bethel AME Church.

"We saw in this election a great rejoicing; now comes the substance," Jackson, who ran for president in 1984 and 1988, said to an audience of hundreds attending the Sunday service, including Mayor Sheila Dixon. "That becomes the real challenge."

Despite making controversial comments about Obama during the campaign, Jackson spoke yesterday of the historic significance of electing the nation's first African-American president. He said his tears were prompted by "the joy of the moment," which was shared across the globe, and thoughts of the long journey it took to get there.

The veteran civil rights activist also said his relationship with the president-elect is a good one and that the incoming administration "represents a chance to start over." He expressed concerns that the departing Bush administration would cause further economic damage through ill-conceived stimulus and bailout packages.

Jackson implored Congress, Obama and the country's citizens to work swiftly and steadily toward strengthening the economy. He pressed for loans for the ailing automotive industry and bemoaned bailouts for banks. He called for urban and rural restructuring to end racial injustice, and said families should become more involved in their children's educations.

"It's your time. It's hope time. It's your time. It's hope time," Jackson passionately chanted, a chorus of voices joining him.

Jackson - who marched for civil rights alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and scored significant wins in two presidential bids, but whose comments and causes have made him an increasingly controversial figure - backed Obama's campaign for president but did not play a visible role in it.

Last year, The State newspaper in South Carolina reported that Jackson said Obama was "acting like he's white" because the candidate did not forcefully condemn the arrest of six black juveniles in a racially charged case in Louisiana. Jackson denied making the comment. And in July, Jackson was recorded by a news program microphone saying he wanted to castrate Obama for "talking down to black people" when he called for black fathers to demonstrate more personal responsibility and backed expanded support for faith-based charities. Jackson later apologized for his remarks, which his son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. - an Illinois Democrat - labeled reckless, divisive and demeaning.

The younger Jackson is on a short list of candidates being considered to fill Obama's Illinois Senate seat.

G.I. Johnson, a former president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was supposed to usher at Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore yesterday, but his pastor excused him so he could attend Bethel. He wanted to see if the elder Jackson had "calmed down his tone a bit."

He said he was impressed with what he heard, calling it a "message of hope."

"We must come together," he said.

Jackson came to Bethel at the behest of its pastor, the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, who said churches have historically been motivating centers for African-Americans economically, educationally, politically and spiritually.

Church members drove people to the polls on Election Day, and Reid plans to develop job- and resume-training programs for the community in 2009. For him, he said, the next decade is about "raising up an entirely new generation of entrepreneurs and business owners and a new generation of millionaires and billionaires in this community."

Reid asked Jackson to talk about what's next, what the postelection black agenda should be within the black church, and introduced him as "the prophet of our struggle" and "our living Moses." Jackson said the black agenda is the American agenda: one that calls for less disparity, more opportunities, a stronger economy and brighter futures for children.

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