CHICAGO, February 23, 2013 — As the Jesse Jackson, Jr. corruption scandal is winding down, so is Black History Month. During the days leading up to the disgraced former congressman’s guilty plea in federal court, much praise was heaped upon his father, Reverend Jesse Jackson. The media described him as “famous,” “distinguished,” “noted,” “heroic,” “celebrated,” and a “venerated” “civil rights leader.”
Unfortunately, no one can name one thing of significance he has done except to become famous for being famous. Jesse Jackson was the mouth that roared. He said it proud, he’s Black and he’s loud. He was somebody. Shouting to make an inglorious noise, making love to cameras and microphones, leading protests, and staging pre-arranged arrests are his only claims to fame in the civil rights arena.
There is one thing Reverend Jackson is famous or infamous for ‒ segregation. While he was out on the streets peddling integration and open housing, he was working to insure that Chicago stayed racially segregated. Segregation guaranteed political power and a political power base. Jackson, like George Wallace, believed in “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
When they are not busy counting ill-gotten money, Chicago’s political power brokers are ruthlessly counting votes. The Chicago Machine was built on distinct voting blocs. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. At one time it was a city of strictly segregated neighborhoods: Poles, Italians, Germans, German Jews, Eastern European Jews, WASPS, Czechs, Blacks, and others all lived in tightly segregated neighborhoods. They voted as ethnic and racial blocs. This was key to effective Machine politics.
Political ideology plays no part in machine politics. The machine is absolutist about one thing and one thing only: winning elections. In Chicago there are no conservatives, progressives, centrists or liberals. There are only winners and losers.
During the mid 1950s through the 1960s, assimilation and “white flight” to the suburbs changed the dynamic of tight ethnic voting blocs. African Americans were the only large homogenous voting bloc left. Hispanics were second and rising fast.
If Jackson and his ilk practiced what they preached, there would be no huge segregated voting bloc, no power base, nothing to use to gain favor and fortune for the few through the machine. Integration and assimilation would have scattered African Americans throughout the city.
Segregation and the politics of poverty worked for Jackson. He benefitted from them, getting power and wealth. He is honored, celebrated, and feted. Make no mistake; Jesse Jackson is only a civil rights leader in the minds of the media who created him. He is merely a vital cog in Chicago’s political apparatus.
The year 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. It also marks the 50th anniversary of a newspaper column, “Voice of Black America,” by former National Urban League President Whitney M. Young.
Young, the Civil Rights movement’s most effective if less-well-known leader, started “Voice of Black America” in 1963. If anyone should be famous, celebrated and honored, it should be Whitney M. Young. While Jackson was parading, shouting and protesting in the streets in search of cameras, fame and fortune, Young was patiently making great strides to pull blacks into the economic mainstream.
“I am not anxious to be the loudest voice or the most popular. But I would like to think that at a crucial moment, I was an effective voice of the voiceless, an effective hope of the hopeless.” (Whitney M. Young, Jr.)
While Jackson was a 1960s fashion icon and celebrity maven, Young was with the suits in boardrooms getting boots so African Americans would have bootstraps to pull them selves up with.
While Jackson was a verbal cyclonic vortex, Whitney M. Young was the quiet, calm tide that floated boats. Jesse Jackson preached what was right. Whitney M. Young did what was right.
Young realized that in order to gain access to the “system” one had to work with and within the “system.” Economic assimilation was the key to equality.
Young was part of the “Big Six”; a group derided my many like Jackson as the “Big Fix.” The “Big Six” also included Martin Luther King, labor leader A. Philip Randolph, civil rights activist James Farmer, activist and congressman John Lewis, and activist Roy Wilkins.
The Big Six created effective change. They did not just march and protest; they worked with the economic and political powers while protesting their practices of inequality. When they were not marching they were knocking on all the right doors and meeting all the right people. They were patient men in a time of great impatience.
While Jesse Jackson was shouting slogans on the streets, the “Big Six” were meeting the pin stripe brigade, people who mattered. While Jackson was demanding, intimidating, and extorting, they were negotiating, selling, and convincing.
The only reasons Jackson rose to the top of the heap was his persistent and consistent courting of the media and his massive ego. He achieved fame and fortune while others effectively achieved change.
Chicago is still the most segregated city in America. Jesse Jackson likes it that way, Black politicians like it that way, and the Democratic Machine likes it that way. It ensures they all remain in power together, dividing up the spoils.
Segregation is the leading cause of the poverty and violence plaguing Chicago. There are large swaths of multi-generation, poverty-stricken, black neighborhoods on the south and west sides, neighborhoods kept that way by career politicians, Jesse Jackson, and the Machine. Their idea of helping the poor is to hand out turkeys, hams, and other groceries during holiday seasons, with the media present, of course.
Jesse Jackson took to heart Reverend Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II’s saying, “The only way to help the poor is not to join them.”
Whitney M. Young and the other members of the Big Six are the forgotten heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Jesse Jackson and his competitor in New York City, Al Sharpton, overshadowed them with bold brashness. Sound bites speak louder than actions. The media loves sound bites. Effective action is boring. It does not generate compelling headlines.
To paraphrase Al Capone, you get farther with a smile and a loud mouth than with just a smile alone.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, Illinois Press Photographers Association, Online News Association, Chicago Headline Club, and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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