Out of America: Jesse reborn by resurrection of Rainbow's ends

WASHINGTON - There are few things as melancholy, yet as fascinating, as the relics of US election campaigns past. Going through old office files recently, I came across some faded Jesse Jackson brochures from 1988. They still exude a passion you can almost touch.

The files were printed before that year's Democratic primary in Michigan which he won so stunningly, the high- water mark of Mr Jackson's party political career. Since then the fortunes of America's most celebrated living civil rights leader have steadily waned - until, perhaps, now.

Last week, Mr Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition convened a conference here to tackle the problems of urban crime and its most single depressing aspect, the growing scourge of violence that blacks commit against each other. Many of the most important black figures in the US attended, from politicians and cabinet officials to entertainers such as Bill Cosby. It would be an exaggeration to say they resolved anything. But Jesse Jackson has a new mission.

His career is a story of failures, of a flight from responsibility thinly masked by headline-stealing stunts such as a hostage release in the Middle East, or a visit to Fidel Castro. Twice Mr Jackson sought the presidency and lost. Four years ago, he declined to run for mayor of Washington DC, even though the high-profile job was his for the asking. 'I'm a tree shaker, not a jelly maker' he once remarked, explaining his aversion to the chores of elected office.

During the 1992 campaign, in which he did not run, Mr Jackson was sidelined and spurned by Bill Clinton the candidate, as he nudged the Democratic party towards the white mainstream. Under Bill Clinton the President, matters did not improve. Mr Jackson failed to become head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People civil rights organisation and no prominent government job was offered. What Mr Jackson once called his 'endless campaign' continued, its vehicle the Rainbow Coalition. But before last week, most people had stopped listening.

They shouldn't have. For all Mr Jackson's faults, he is still the nearest thing to a leader black America possesses. The Clinton cabinet may contain four blacks; there are people such as Kweise Mfume, leader of the black Congressional Caucus and whose story, from the mean streets of Baltimore to power and esteem on Capitol Hill, is as inspiring as anything Mr Jackson can offer.

Many blacks resent Mr Jackson. Among ordinary voters, he is apt to alienate as many as he attracts. But few can match his credentials, his oratory, his physical presence. And in the painful matter of acknowledging the crisis of black-on-black violence, no other black leader has so much as raised his hand.

Violent crimes in the US are mostly committed between people of the same race. Though blacks are barely one- tenth of the population, they account for half of all murder victims. Between 1980 and 1992 violent crimes (excluding murder), rose four times as fast against blacks as against whites. Proportionately, twice as many blacks as whites consider crime and violence the most important problem facing the country. Count Mr Jackson, who lives on a Washington block that saw five murders in 1993, among them. 'There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life,' he said recently, 'than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then to look around and see someone white and feel relieved.'

Such words have not endeared him to everyone. Mr Jackson was accused of playing to racial stereotypes and feeding white prejudice. Nor was his statement greatly appreciated that ascribed the violence of the inner cities to 'spiritual surrender, ethical collapse, and degenerative self-hatred'. But they cannot be faulted for courage and honesty. He may sound on occasion like a Republican suburbanite, but the last thing Mr Jackson wants is to make the problems of black America worse.

There was, he warned at the weekend, 'no quick fix' - certainly not the mixture of more police and prisons, stiffer sentences, and reduced rights of appeal for convicted murderers contained in the Senate crime bill that the President supports. Such ideas tackled symptoms rather than causes: the lack of jobs, the breakdown of the family, a culture that has lost hope and values.

And so back to that yellowing brochure of 1988 and its proclamation of 'Bold Leadership, New Direction'. It applies perfectly to 1994. Of Jackson the crusader, there is no doubt. The Rainbow Coalition will hold further anti-crime summits before a youth march to the White House on 4 April, the 26th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. 'We shall turn Dr King's crucifixion date into a resurrection.' If Jesse Jackson has the patience to see this venture through, he will seal his own resurrection in public life.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world