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Friday, April 13, 2007

Jesse Jackson's Skeletons

"Barbara Reynolds, a black journalist who once idolized Jesse Jackson, followed him for five years to collect information for her book. She has emerged as one of his strongest critics. She says, 'I think Jesse is very much a creation of the media. He's a TV-made Madison Avenue production.' One of the things that anger her is Jackson's success in creating the myth that he was so close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that he was the last person to speak to him and that he cradled the mortally wounded King in his arms on the balcony of the Memphis motel where King was shot.

"This angered nearly all members of King's staff and his widow, Coretta Scott King. It appeared that Jesse Jackson was trying to create the impression in the public mind that he was closer to Dr. King at the time of his death than anyone else on his staff. King's aides knew that this was untrue. Others were physically closer to Dr. King at the time he was shot. The Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy says he was at King's side from the time he was shot until he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital. He said of Jesse Jackson, 'I am sure that he would not say to me that he ever came near Dr. King after Doc was shot.' Abernathy has also disclosed that Dr. King was not overly fond of the young and brash Jesse Jackson. He has said that five days before the assassinated, King had been angered by Jackson's conduct, and he had said, 'Jesse, it may be that you will carve your own individual niche in society. But don't you bother me.' (New York Times Magazine, 11/29/87, p. 36)

"Barbara Reynolds says that at least 100 articles appeared, some based on interviews with Jackson, which alleged that Jackson had cradled King in his arms, that he was the last man King spoke to, or that he had attended a meeting in Chicago the day after the assassination wearing a shirt stained with Dr. King's blood. When King was shot, Jackson had been on the ground beneath the balcony where King was standing. When the TV camera crews arrived, Jackson advised members of King's staff not to talk to them. Forty-five minutes after the shooting, King's field lieutenant, Hosea Williams, observed Jesse Jackson himself giving an interview to the reporters. He heard Jackson say, 'Yes, I was the last man in the world King spoke to.' Williams told Barbara Reynolds, 'I knew Jesse was lying because Solomon Jones was the one, and I had a feeling about what Jesse was trying to pull.'

"Pleading illness, Jackson skipped a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) the next day, and caught a plane back to Chicago that night. He appeared on NBC's Today Show the next morning, wearing a shirt that be claimed was stained with King's blood. Later in the day he attended a meeting called to memorialize King, still wearing the same bloody shirt. He met with Don Rose, a left-wing political consultant in Chicago, that day. Rose told Gail Sheehy, 'There was a deliberate decision to launch an image-making process.'

"Jackson doesn't like to talk about his controversial bloody shirt these days. 'The entire topic is plainly distasteful to Jackson,' says Hattie Clark of the Christian Science Monitor. She reports that Jackson bristled when pressed for an explanation of his conduct at the time of the assassination. He told her the blood was King's and that it was everywhere. Gail Sheehy says that Jackson now tells different stories, 'even to the same journalist,' about what happened.

"The controversy has not been given a lot of attention by the media, but it has not been entirely ignored. A New York Times Magazine article of November 29, 1987, says that now Jackson 'both stands by his story and alters it a bit.' Now he does not claim that he cradled King's head, only that he 'reached out for' him. David Maraniss writing in The Washington Post of April 3, 1988, says that Jackson did not make a beeline for the balcony after King was shot. According to an oral history account by his friend Ben Branch, Jackson 'ducked and went around behind the swimming pool,' Maraniss says Jackson eventually did get to the balcony and may have gotten some blood on his hands or shirt from the pool of blood on the balcony floor.

"Garrick Utley, co-host of NBC's 'Sunday Today,' tried to pin Jackson down about this matter on the program of February 28. He first showed Hosea Williams in a taped interview disputing Jackson's version of events. Appearing live, Jackson bristled when Utley tried to question him about the matter, saying he had discussed it over and over again. Reminded that Hosea Williams had disputed Jackson's version of events, Jackson suggested that he interview the Rev. Billy Kyles, pastor of a Memphis church who was with King on the balcony when the shot was fired. When Utley asked if he was denying the statements made by Williams and others, Jackson replied, 'No, I affirm what I've said consistently for 20 years.'

"The Rev. Billy Kyles was the only person with King on the balcony when he was shot. He is also the only person present who thinks Jesse Jackson might have handled King's body. However, Barbara Reynolds says that Kyles lost control when King was shot. She says he ran back into his room and fell on his bed, screaming. He wasn't in the best position to observe Jesse Jackson's actions.

"Other King staffers remained bitter about Jackson's claims for many years. Hosea Williams said that he decided to forgive him in 1984, and he suggested to Coretta Scott King that she do the same, arguing that there was a 'new Jesse, not the overly ambitious young man we used to know.' Mrs. King replied, 'Hosea, Jesse Jackson has not changed one bit.' (Washington Post, 4/3/88)

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Jesse Jackson, the Man, the Movement, the Myth

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Booker T. Washington said:

"There is another class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs -- partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs....There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who do not want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public."

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