Looking Back: Rev. Jesse Jackson redefines identity


The Easterner Vol. 19, No. 25, Feb. 19, 1969

This photo was originally featured in The Easterner in Vol. 19, No. 25 in 1969. The former lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to EWU to give a speech on redefining African American identity.

By Bob Cubbage, Easterner Archives

This story was originally published in The Easterner in Vol. 19, No. 25 in 1969 and has not yet been changed except for AP style.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson drew a standing ovation from a near capacity crowd in Showalter Auditorium Thursday night as he spoke on the new meanings his people are defining for themselves and the need to eradicate the American ghettoes which he termed “colonies.”

“In 1954 and 1955 white people defined for us what we were doing and today we’re not going to listen to them when they offer a definition on what we’re trying to do,” the former lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said.

“Today’s revoltists are yesterday’s pacifists. In 1954 our hopes rose-we believed the white system could grant us justice. And the white system didn’t deliver. The gap between hope and fulfillment is frustration,” Jackson said.

Thomas Jefferson redefined his relationship with Great Britain by penning the Declaration of Independence, Jackson said, and Abraham Lincoln redefined the half-slave, half-free milieu of his country by the Gettysburg address.

For some reason God has put us all here together and we must live together as brothers or die together as fools.”

— Reverend Jesse Jackson, February 1969

“Now the blacks are re-analyzing their relationship with America,” Jackson said.

“We must look at ourselves, our economy-where 40 million of 200 million people are living in stark poverty. And these people are working the hardest, the longest and have the nastiest chores.

“Our economy has to plow vegetables under the ground and throw food in the rivers to develop our economy.

“We have to seek a more adequate level of distribution. There is corruption in the distribution process when America is over-producing and under-consuming,” Jackson said.

Occupying ghettoes with the military is no answer, Jackson said. “The antidote to hunger is food, not bullets.”

Law and order in the ghetto is a codename for violence, Jackson said. “Why isn’t there a slum today that is considered illegal? Where is the law that prevents real estate people from hemming the blacks into an area so out of proportion to their number and the surrounding territory?

“If the law doesn’t come, there will be no order,” Jackson intoned.

Colleges need to take the question of what create a colony. “Colleges should quit reacting emotionally to riots in America today and start responding academically to them,” Jackson said. “In the ghettoes today the executive jobs are usurped by colonizers. We are not able to build our own roads, run our banks or establish an educational system for ourselves.

“We simply live there; we are tools of the colonizer. Who uses police to keep it separated? The white colonizer did.”

“The United States of America talks of love for mankind and peace but where are they when minds and lives are being lost, and stomachs bloated in Nigeria. America won’t get involved in Biafra because Nigeria is aligned with Great Britain and there are Standard Oil and Texaco refineries there.

“It is simply not in our economic interest to be involved there,” Jackson said. Jackson said the commitment to racism in America is exemplified by the United State’s reluctance to aid a dying man in Nigeria but rush to offer refugee camps for “scared white men” in Czechoslovakia.”

America’s “Economic rationale” and a belief that one race is innately inferior to another brought slaves to the American shores.

“Man cannot do wrong long without finding a justification for it,” Jackson said. “Men turn to preachers and theologians for justification for their deeds. The best preacher is one who justifies the state’s position the best.”

America’s foremost institutions are permeated with racism because whites would not come forward with an antidote. “Still white racism is in America’s bloodstream today. Most Americans go along with our demands but when a white wants to marry a black the white society gasps and draws a line because that is an existential difference, that is black and white.”

The Rev. Jackson concluded his talk by saying: “For some reason God has put us all here together and we must live together as brothers or die together as fools.

“All of us are products of illicit relationships of our fore-parents and are victimized by our violent heritage.”

Jackson cautioned against replying that whites should not be held accountable for the actions of their forefathers. “You’re living with his riches,” Jackson told the students.