"I was praying even that Michael was going to return to the Michael we know and love," he said, "and the music that was the soundtrack to our lives."
Before Billie Jean, MTV hadn't played a black artist. They weren't "rock" enough, the channel's executives said.
But as Thriller became the top-selling album of all-time, and its corresponding videos all but made MTV, Jackson soundly broke that color barrier.
Jackson's appeal became near-universal, a sound as inescapable on white suburban boomboxes as it was in urban dance clubs.
Still, the idea of racial harmony played out throughout Jackson's career. He teamed with Paul McCartney in the 1980s for the singles "Say, Say, Say" and "The Girl is Mine," and years later, even as his own blackness seemed to be literally fading away as his skin tone became ever lighter, he sang: "If you're thinking about my baby it don't matter if you're black or white."
"His catalog revolves around love, around African-American pride and around uplifting all people," says Eric Byrd, a music lecturer at McDaniel College. "He was trying to tell people we can do better as a human family."
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Sessa contributed to this article.