Despite their boyish appearance, Andrew Young and Louis Farrakhan are now in their sixties (sixty-four and sixty-three respectively). Jesse Jackson is younger (fifty-five), but all three are transition figures, brought up before that great divide, the 1960s civil rights movement, and surviving after many of their contemporaries in the black leadership have been killed or gone dissolute or faded from memory. Too young to serve in World War II, all three were exempted by religious ministry from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Their war has been the black struggle for justice.
They seem, at first glance, to represent fundamentally different ways of waging that war. Young has been a tactful assimilationist, earning office as a congressman, ambassador, and mayor. Farrakhan is a separatist divided even from other Black Muslim factions. Jackson has been footloose, his highest office and title nothing but his own proper name. There are many ways of being black in America; but they are all ways of being, inescapably, black—as certain similarities in these careers should remind us.
Though born into the segregated era—in some degree, because born then—the three men’s early memories are of a warm and supporting community. A friend of the young Farrakhan, who grew up with him in Boston, remembers: “It was one big extended family. We used to sit on the steps and name all the families for five blocks around. So how much bad could you do if you even tried to do something wrong?”
Andrew Young, small for his age, knew the network that would protect him:
The key to safe passage in any hostile neighborhood was the existence of a blood relative who lived there and the quick presentation of his or her name and address. Even a distant blood relative, like a second cousin, would do the trick. If the person who was checking you out actually knew your relative, his attitude would abruptly change to one of warm friendship, as if both of you were blood relatives.
Jackson is, as usual, the most eloquent:
Mother, grandmother here—teacher over here—and church over here. Within that love triangle, I was protected, got a sense of security and worth. Even mean ole segregation couldn’t break in on me and steal my soul.
Given today’s plaints over black family life, these memories can sound almost idyllic. But ghettoization often increases communal solidarity. Jewish and Catholic children from the same era have somewhat similar memories. That does not justify the ghettoization of human beings by a society not willing to welcome them as equals.
Besides, these three were comparatively privileged—urban youths with the means to go to college and enter a respected ministry nearly at the top. Young was twenty-five when he was made director of youth activities for the National Conference of Churches (NCC). Farrakhan, who had attended good schools (Boston Latin and English High), was twenty-four when he became the minister of the Muslims’ Boston temple. Jackson was twenty-five when Dr. King put him in charge of Operation Breadbasket, the Chicago effort to get more and better jobs for blacks. Dr. King, it should be remembered, was just twenty-six when he led the Birmingham boycott. The civil rights protestors were products of an old culture, but it took young energy to launch them beyond that.
The three youths under discussion all had talents recognized early. A high sense of his own identity was instilled in each by relatives and teachers. As boys they had talked their way out of fights that took up much of their contemporaries’ energies. Yet all three were good at sports—track for Young and Farrakhan, football for Jackson. Each had religious experiences bordering on the mystic, deepening their sense of vocation. Only such magic combinations carried them through the buffetings that destroyed people less blessed by luck, skill, and strong helpers.
For all these common traits, the men come from very different places—New Orleans, Boston, and Greenville, South Carolina, and from even more distant social settings. While Farrakhan and Jackson were the illegitimate sons of absent fathers, Young’s family background was exaggeratedly respectable. His father, a graduate of Howard University, became a dentist. At first only poor blacks who could not pay sought his services. But a Huey Long program for care of rural blacks’ teeth gave Andrew Young, Sr., a source of steady income. Later, with a measure of hard-won prosperity, Young found some white patients coming to him.
Father and mother taught the young Andrew that education, professional skills, white favor, and governmental programs were the sources of safety and improvement. He was sent to a private black grade school whose whole aim was assimilationist—to impress whites with how sober, polite, grammatical, and deferential its students could be. Young’s parents kept him apart from the lustier aspects of black culture. Though he does not mention this in his book, he told me once that he, a native of New Orleans, was not allowed to listen to jazz or the blues—he had to catch up with that side of culture later on, when he was in New York. For “Negro music” he was taken to classical concerts sung by Roland Hayes or Marian Anderson.
Young’s church was not Southern Baptist but New England Congregational—founded by nineteenth century missionaries to blacks in the South. For families like Jesse Jackson’s, becoming a preacher was a step up in respectability; but Young’s father considered it a step down. Whites did not admire black preachers—even of the educated sort trained by Congregationalists. The father wanted his son to have the one real form of protection for a black, economic independence. The way to get that was to pursue and solidify the family’s dentistry business—as Young’s brother did.
Young went to his father’s alma mater, Howard, where he starred at track and took the pre-med courses needed for dentist’s school; but he felt deeper cavities in him than a dentist’s life could fill. His break with his father on this was an emotionally trying one, but Young struggled free to enter Hartford Theological Seminary. There he acquired the old missionary mentality, and asked to take the gospel to Africa. Visa problems at his graduation delayed his departure—temporarily, he thought; luckily, as it turned out. Work in Africa would have deprived him of the great experience of his generation in America. Yet this interest in Africa leapfrogged him over a generation, to put him in touch with younger American blacks who would soon be turning to Africa as a source of identity.
Assigned to a small parish in Thomasville, Georgia, Young for the first time lived with and for poor blacks. There was culture shock on both sides. Young could not learn to go to the back door of whites’ houses. His informal seminary ways from Hartford did not sit well with rural blacks, who did not want to call their young minister by his first name or to see his wife in shorts.
Offered the NCC’s national youth ministry, Young took that mandate to mean teaching literacy skills as part of voter drives in the South. With his NCC salary and a grant from the Field Foundation, he joined pioneers of the teaching movement like Septima Clark and Dorothy Cotton, who were working in harmony with Dr. King’s SCLC.
Young had learned his father’s lessons, even while taking a different path. With his independent financial base, Young could pick and choose what efforts to support. He had great tactical skills, and he was not afraid to negotiate with whites. In moderating some of the wilder schemes advanced by SCLC hotheads, he came under suspicion as a spy or subverter of the movement. Did his own money come from the FBI? King valued Young for his cool way of weighing the risks, possible gains, and necessary costs of any course of action. The same gifts made others suspect or resent him.
Young’s book has been long delayed, as have other works by veterans of Dr. King’s movement. Jackson has been working with publishers and possible co-authors for decades. When Ralph Abernathy rushed into print with a book admitting some of Dr. King’s failings, he was bitterly criticized by his old comrades. There has been a notable reluctance to describe the civil rights leadership in all its messy, confused, and debilitating complexity. There is a myth of solidarity behind one moral vision, Dr. King’s, that people are reluctant to give up.
All this is understandable. There is no nobler sequence of events in America’s modern history than the marches and sermons and jailings that brought about the end of Jim Crow laws in the South. Men, women, and children, blacks and whites together, ministers, rabbis, priests, and nuns joined hands for a moment to protest without violence. Their stunning challenge to society was this: “We have more will to go on being beaten than you have will to keep beating us.” They backed up that defiance with patient suffering, enduring jeers, spittle, dogs, blows, hoses, jails, and death. There were heroes everywhere, as Pope’s Iliad says.
But like all large efforts, this one did not escape internal doubts, hesitations, bitter clashes, envy, suspicion, hysteria, and blunders. Dr. King was especially good at keeping factions together and presenting a dignified front to the world. But that just led to charges that he was promoting himself, stealing credit from older and wiser heads (like those of the NAACP and the Urban League) or from bolder young voices (like those of SNCC or the Muslims).
Young has for years avoided telling this tale. He refused to talk with Taylor Branch for his brilliant first volume on Dr. King (Parting the Waters).1 He cooperated with an authorized biographer, trying to detach his own story from that of others he did not want to criticize. When that did not work, he wrote a small spiritual diary of what the movement had meant to him as a matter of theology. Put out by a religious publisher, that book got no notice at all.2
Finally, in this book, he takes us inside the movement. He presents King as torn in various directions by those on his staff. Jim Bevel, for instance, was a soaringly eloquent young preacher from Mississippi who married his equal as a firebrand in the movement, the beautiful Diane Nash from Chicago. He wanted monthly equivalents of the March on Washington, and he treated Young as a traitor when the latter brought up logistical objections.
Hosea Williams yearned toward apocalyptic showdowns. “Fill the jails,” he would say. When Young said there was not enough bail to get the young people out, he was called an Uncle Tom.
Ralph Abernathy was fawningly attached to King, yet deeply jealous of him. When his feelings were wounded, he would withdraw to his church, where he remained pastor throughout the SCLC campaign.
Jesse Jackson at first seemed like others in the second wave of younger men joining the movement—Stokely Carmichael and the SNCC kids. They had street smarts and a brash rhetoric King tried to mute, much as Young had learned to mute his “big city” ways in Thomasville.
Leaders of the long-established civil rights organizations—Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Whitney Young of the Urban League—thought King had betrayed the legal strategies of their organizations by taking protest into the street. They tried to prevent the March on Washington and, when they could not do that, put themselves in the early speaking slots, shoving Dr. King to the end with a hope that TV would have exhausted the event by that time.
There is nothing of anger or contempt in Young’s account of these conflicts. He obviously believes the time has come for candor. He at last puts in print what the FBI tape contained that was sent to Mrs. King—a recording of a long, giddy hotel session on the night after the March on Washington in which King handles complaints from Abernathy that he was not allowed to speak that day. King says that Ralph needs his own organization to represent at the next march. How about the “national association for the advancement of eating pussy”? In that, “no one could challenge your pre-eminence, you would have no competition.”
There was also a heavy-breathing, apparently sexual bout recorded, with no names mentioned. Young says the male voice was not King’s, though he does not deny there were sexual excesses in the movement. Taking advantage of the very tense atmosphere, young brothers exploited women volunteers, black and white, telling them they were serving the cause.
Young does not diminish the achievements of King or his followers. He knows how much was owed to the courage of Jim Bevel—he tried to prevent Bevel’s expulsion from the SCLC after he had a mental breakdown and courted scandal. We get some sense of how nerves were always at the breaking point, in those days of trial, from the way Young has to rebuke even his admired first colleague in voter registration, Dorothy Cotton. On the night when Medgar Evers was killed, a call came from King to Young in Birmingham: Fannie Lou Hamer had just been jailed with other women in Winona, Mississippi, and their lives were in danger (as it turned out, they were brutally beaten). One man sent to negotiate had disappeared. King wanted Young to drive the six hours to Winona and get Hamer out. Young had no car, but Cotton did. He asked for her keys, so he and Bevel could go. She should stay out of danger. She blew up at their “male chauvinism,” insisting on driving, and tore off in a desperate rage over Hamer’s treatment.
It was SCLC doctrine that members must never break laws like speed limits, giving the authorities an opportunity to hamper their work with niggling arrests, but Dorothy was going ninety miles an hour when she almost hit a truck. Young said: “Damn you, woman, it’s okay to be killed by white folks in Mississippi while trying to do something worthwhile, but I don’t want you killing us on this highway for nothing!” She pulled over in silence and let Young drive. But when Young and Bevel stopped to get gas before going into Winona (another SCLC rule: be all gassed up for escape when going into a tense situation), and went in to allay the gas attendant’s fears that they were bringing trouble, they returned to an empty car. Dorothy was storming ahead on foot. Keeping her fires damped down was a constant preoccupation for Young while he negotiated a tricky exchange with the Winona sheriff to get Hamer out.
Imagine incidents like that, large and small, at all levels of a loose organization preyed on by white bigots, given reluctant help by a dubious Kennedy administration, and it seems little wonder that so many heroes of that time fell apart when the crisis had passed, succumbed to drink, drugs, money, or venality. They were veterans of an unrecognized war, most feeling they reaped no lasting credit for their deeds of valor. Out of many such people I remember with special regret Ivanhoe Donaldson, the handsome and athletic charmer who led sit-ins in their most dangerous stage—and ended up in prison for having helped to siphon public moneys into private pockets when he worked for Marion Barry’s administration in Washington.
Even Young bears the scars of his experience. This disciplined and wise man succumbed to an Oliver Stone- like belief in some conspiracy to kill not only King but other peace activists of the period, including Dag Hammarskjold, Bernard Fall, Thomas Merton, and Bob Spike of the NCC, all of whom met violent deaths. Despite that one lapse into hysteria, his is a levelheaded book. It reveals the civil rights movement as more, not less, heroic. We no longer see a serene picture of Gandhian saints, but flawed people up against every effort of a surrounding society to destroy them, people with few supporters (and those under constant FBI sniping, branded as Communists, anarchists, or homosexuals), people often angry at each other, always depending on each other, despondent, praying, hoping that good would prevail—as it did, over their dead bodies or broken lives. Only a few whole survivors live to tell this story, Young outstanding among them.
In order to understand Young’s odd conspiratorial theory, we have to realize what constant pressure he was under—much of it an internal pressure of his own conscience—to stand with his endangered fellows even in their paranoia. Others have blackness thrust upon them. For him, it was a chosen thing. His original work for the NCC was done in a largely white world. When he joined the Southern effort, he was treated as an outsider. King himself used to joke that racists were wrong to attack the light-skinned Andy, since “he ain’t all that black”—a line that was still being used by the SCLC’s Joseph Lowery in Young’s 1990 race for governor in Georgia. He had to let his hair grow out in the 1960s to prove that it really was kinky.
He says that even in his Louisiana school days he felt guilty about attempts of his parents and teachers to keep him away from poor and uneducated blacks. We are told, now, that black middle-class guilt is a phenomenon that followed on the successes of the civil rights movement. But it is a permanent problem for any people from an excluded group who achieve some measure of inclusion. A wise Jesuit observer, John LaFarge, noticed this in the black students he was training for success in the 1930s. He put the problem with great psychological insight. We might call it the Andrew Young problem.
…the Negro is constrained, according to some of the leaders in the group, to make use as diligently as possible of the opportunities for education or other forms of spiritual and temporal development and improvement that are available to him under the segregated system. By conscientiously and effectively raising the status of his group while under bondage, as it were, he removes, it is alleged, many of the most irritating causes of friction between the races, renders his group less open to the inroads of exploitation under segregation, and provides a more facile basis of interracial adjustment under a [presumably imminent] more liberal system…. There are, however, differences of opinion as to how far such acquiescence in the inevitable is to interfere with striving for a more equitable order. Differences in opinion on this point are similar to many such discussions at home and abroad, where the perennial warfare between expediency and principle comes into play.3
How to belong to one’s own people was a problem Gene Walcott (a k a Louis Farrakhan) faced in a different context. He, too, was light-skinned, and out of the mainstream of South-ern Baptist religion. Young was in the Congregationalist enclave of Creole New Orleans, where French, Cajun, and Catholic traditions linger. Young’s parents took pride in their mixed blood, especially their American Indian ancestry. Walcott was in a northern enclave of Caribbean immigrants, with a heritage of the English colonial religion: Walcott grew up as a chorister and acolyte in the Episcopal church, and married a black Catholic girl (still his wife). He played with Jewish New York boys, as Young had played with white boys. (“I owned the ball and bat.”) Walcott studied violin with a Jewish teacher. At Boston’s English High School he was a track star as well as a good student. A boyhood acquaintance says, “Louis was the ‘president’ of Roxbury.” A Jewish teammate says: “I wish I could say otherwise, but Gene was a mensch…. I liked him tremendously.” Walcott took pride in the white culture’s acceptance of Harry Belafonte’s Caribbean music, then at the peak of its popularity—that was his “spirituals.” How did such a multicultural world produce the narrow separatism of Farrakhan’s Muslimism?
Arthur Magida, a Jewish critic of Farrakhan, took the trouble to interview him on their differences in an attempt (not very successful) to bridge them, to create a constructive framework for dialogue. The basic facts of Farrakhan’s life are well presented by Magida, and the interviews suggest Farrakhan’s charm—a desire to be accepted that flirts out from and withdraws back into Farrakhan’s rebarbative doctrines. He too has learned that joining his people means accepting its sense of betrayal—at a far deeper level than Young’s belief in a plot to kill the saints.
Walcott’s good grades at good schools would have led to a scholarship at some Ivy League college if he had been white. We hear horror stories now of unqualified blacks being admitted to colleges under affirmative action—and there is no excuse for admitting the unqualified. But we should remember the many decades when qualified blacks like Walcott were not given scholarships (or admission on any terms).
Walcott went instead to a black Southern college, Winston-Salem Teacher’s College in North Carolina. Though he went there on a track scholarship, he was more interested in music by this time (he had already played his violin on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour). He organized a calypso band, dropped out of college, married, and took his band on tour.
The blacks he met in northern clubs were not Baptists whose religious impulses came from the churches. The only strong religious force registered there came from the prisons, the odd recruiting ground for Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement, which made up in intensity and ceremonial drama for its small size. Proselytizers took Walcott to meetings in the Chicago temple, but he was not impressed till he met the Muslims’ Boston representative, Malcolm X, who seemed to have all the certitude Walcott was being drained of. Walcott was afraid to shake Malcolm’s hand the first time they met, since he was wearing makeup that blanched his already pale skin, and he had heard how cursed a thing whiteness was to Malcolm. Walcott, renamed Louis X, became Malcolm’s disciple and took over the Boston temple when Malcolm moved to New York.
Magida tries to be sympathetic to the Muslim religion, but he is not very helpful on this exotic-looking sect. On Muslimism we get a deeper treatment in Mattias Gardell’s book. Gardell, a Swedish anthropologist of religion who teaches at Uppsala University, traces all the forms of “Muslim” and cognate creeds (e.g., Garveyism) in America, comparing them with Sunni Mohammedanism. Gene Walcott grew up with some knowledge of Marcus Garvey’s cosmology (how Adam and Eve were black, but Cain turned white with shock when God rebuked his murder of Abel), since his mother was a sometime Garveyite and his father came from Garvey’s birthplace (Jamaica).
Informative as Gardell is, he does not explain to most whites how intelligent men like Malcolm and Farrakhan can believe in some of the vivider parts of the package—the spaceship, for instance, that Farrakhan claims he boarded for important revelations. But the larger shape of this religion has primordial appeal, as many Near Eastern analogues demonstrate. It is an apocalyptic faith that sees two antagonistic forces on the verge of a cosmic showdown, with a chosen sector of humanity bearing witness to the coming victory of the good force. This is the basic theological shape of John’s Gospel as well as of various forms of gnostic Christianity.4 Magida, like others, notes that Farrakhan quotes the Jewish and Christian scriptures at least as much as the Koran.
What makes it hard for many to see the basic similarities in these religious patterns is that Elijah Muhammad, following his own teacher, Wallace Fard, neatly inverted the color symbolism of this cosmic battle. In John’s Gospel, the forces of Darkness try to extinguish the Light, using human instruments like Judas to oppose Jesus, “the light [that] shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). For Elijah, Darkness shines in the Light, and the Light cannot comprehend it. Black is good, white evil. This is absurd only to those who have not questioned the equally arbitrary symbolism of light as essentially good and dark as essentially bad.
A kind of halfway house between Christian and Muslim symbols was reached in slave songs and sermons that represented white masters as Pharaoh holding a people in captivity, or Herod brutalizing black children, or Pilate condemning a captive who “never said a mumblin’ word.” The Bible represented these evil men as agents of darkness—yet their modern counterparts were white masters holding dark people in bonds. An inversion of symbols was virtually begging to be made. Wallace Fard made it. The search for African identity strengthened it. Even some Jewish texts, they felt, had slipped into the truth: “I am black but comely” (Song of Songs 1:5).
There is something deeply liberating, in a culture that has for centuries made blackness the badge of the devil, for blacks to turn the tables on their oppressors, finding their skin shameful. This could not seem unlikely to people who had experienced white hands at the end of the whip, white faces peering down during the act of rape, the assembled white powers excluding blacks from liberties and luxuries. White devils are as plausible as black ones. A higher religion of the spirit would say that God is neither white nor black, male nor female—as Saint Augustine put it: “If you understand it, it is not God; if it is God, you do not understand it.”5 But few if any people live with such rarefied abstractions. God must be father (or mother) for popular devotion. If he must, as well, be either white or black, then he is obviously black for those who know evil mainly as a violation of the spirit by white people.
Even some of the most outlandish-looking doctrines of the Muslims make sense in terms of this pattern of cosmic conflict. If good is to win in the end, is to prove itself the ultimately real, even the evil power, insofar as it is not unreal, must somehow be derived from the good. In the biblical cosmology popularized by Milton, Satan is a good angel who rebels and “as lightning falls from Heaven” (Luke 10:18). Even the foe of God comes from God. In Fardism, whites were created by the rebellion of a mad black scientist called Yacub, who experimented until he had invented a white simulacrum of genuine (black) humanity. His earlier products—yellow, reddish, brown—were only partly evil. The perfected and pure evil was that whiteness, gradually arrived at, that Garvey saw Cain accomplish in an instant.
Human beings obviously have a profound wish to read the inmost secret of the universe and to join the ultimate cosmic battle. If we did not know that before, the millenial approach of the year 2000 will teach it to us. Fardism not only offers these pleasurable secrets to its followers. It also links American blacks to ancient Africa and, more generally, to the whole geographic area of the Mohammedan world. Blacks thus become part of a reality larger than America itself.
But this larger heritage could be a drawback. Black Americans are more American than Arabic. Elijah’s son, Wallace Muhammad, did not understand that. During his father’s life, he toured Muslim countries, studied the Koran, and was dismayed by his father’s impure rendition of Mohammed’s teachings. When he took over his father’s temple after Elijah’s death in 1975, he tried to purge Muslimism of the crudities based on Fard’s pastiche of Far-Easternisms. But those crudities were in part an adaptation of black folk Christianity—and, as such, the source of much of Elijah’s success.
Farrakhan grasped this, and held to the pure teaching of the “impure” Elijah. As Wallace’s empire dwindled, Farrakhan’s filled the vacuum left behind, until he bought Elijah’s home (“the Black House”) and Elijah’s temple (Mosque No. 2) in the 1980s, supplanting Wallace on his father’s original turf.
But Farrakhan’s impure orthodoxy can be as imprisoning as the pure one. He has tried to find wiggle room in his condemnations of whites, and especially of Jews. We can watch his efforts in the fascinating interviews with Magida. But Farrakhan’s doctrines keep him from the ultimate breakout that would put his whole theological structure in peril. For Farrakhan, Jews are the quintessential whites. After all, it is their scripture that is at the basis of the Western symbolism of whiteness. In Genesis, the creating God says, “Let there be light.” Christianity just draws on this story of light-against-dark imagery. Besides, by one of history’s grim jokes that pits the oppressed against each other, blacks in America have often moved into neighborhoods just quitted by Jews, and had their predecessors as their landlords.
With a weird symmetry, the Christian Identity theology behind militia groups like the Freemen of Montana treats Jews as the quintessential blacks. Trying to explain the evil half of the historical struggle as descended from the good, this sect holds that there were two seeds sown in Eve—one by Adam, producing the white male Abel, and one by the devil, producing the dark male Cain. Jews and blacks are the offspring of Cain. Jews’ actual skin color does not impress such militia groups—“Funny, you don’t look African”—any more than the light skin of Farrakhan disturbs him when he is denouncing white devils, or than the dark hair of Hitler disturbed people praising “blond beasts.” The color is symbolic. Much of it must be supplied by “the mind’s eye.”
The difficulty Farrakhan has in escaping his dogmatic anti-Semitism is like that the Catholic Church experienced when it tried to escape past readings of the New Testament as imposing an historic curse on Jews. 6 Farrakhan tries, at times, to be nicer to Jews than his principles allow. Gardell makes an admirable attempt to understand Farrakhan on his own terms, but this carries him too far when he argues that Farrakhan is not “really” anti-Semitic: “According to Farrakhan, white Jews are devils, a matter of belief that could be taken as anti-Semitic if considered out of context.” “Could be,” indeed! Farrakhan, according to Gardell, is not anti-Semitic, just anti-satanist. Since he thinks all abuses of religion, by Christians as well as Jews, are satanic, there is no special animus toward Jews. Farrakhan is an equal-opportunity hater. Gardell also says that the Black Muslim cannot be ultimately anti-Semitic since Sunni Mohammedanism is not. Yet Farrakhan is the champion of a variant of Muslimness which, as Wallace Muhammad and Malcolm X came to recognize, is very far from its Middle Eastern model.
What Gardell does see is that Farrakhan is trying, sporadically, to twist himself out of some extremist statements about Jews—just as he tries to slip away from the death threat he made against Malcolm X. In this he is repeating a process continually at work in Black Muslimism. Elijah, toward the end of his life, began saying that all whites were not devils and hoped to work with them. His son Wallace carried this process further. Malcolm was making the same concessions before his murder.
Even Farrakhan’s participation in Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign was a step in this direction. The Nation of Islam had refrained from voting, from participating in the white devil’s system, up to that point. Farrakhan, who had accompanied Jackson when he met Muslim leaders abroad, joined this nonviolent participant in the economic and political system, leading Andrew Young to say: “Jesse’s campaigning is the first thing that has moved Farrakhan toward the mainstream of American politics.” Like most of Farrakhan’s motion toward others, this one was followed by a recoil—Farrakhan threatened the life of Milton Coleman, the black reporter who heard Jackson call New York “Hymietown.” Obviously Farrakhan had not become nonviolent himself by supporting the nonviolent Jackson.
Yet the actual violence of the Muslims has been exercised mainly on other Muslims—on Malcolm X, shot by Newark Muslims; on Khallid Muhammad, shot by James X. The overheated rhetoric has been largely aimed at keeping Muslims true to their ascetic principles, and actual violence has been directed at internal dissidents or heretics—not at whites (though skinheads and Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League threatened the Muslims). Like the Mafia, the Muslims, to this point, tend to shoot their own. Even the black-on-black violence may not have resulted in bloodshed without FBI encouragement and complicity. A principal merit of Gardell’s book is his use of FBI files released under the Freedom of Information Act, which show patterns of efforts to incite the Muslims to violence against one another, including the murder of Malcolm X.
There is no condoning the anti-Semitism of Farrakhan, demonstrated in the phony “scholarship” of his organization’s book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. Gardell is wrong to deny this, and Jackson was wrong to be so late in recognizing Farrakhan’s venom toward Jews. No wonder Jews are worried by the fact that a majority of blacks view Farrakhan favorably (a finding that explains the effectiveness of Farrakhan’s call for the Million Man March).
Yet a 1994 Time/CNN survey showed that only a fifth of the blacks polled connected Farrakhan with anti-Semitism. Most of them, when asked, see his followers as models of discipline, pride, family ties, and self-improvement. What is brought upoftenest is their freedom from drugs and alcohol. The symbolic force of the Black Muslims is the very opposite of that of the Black Panthers. They stand, in the African-American community, for “Build, baby, build,” not “Burn, baby, burn.” As Magida notes:
In some ways, Farrakhan was closer than many black leaders to the more conservative politics not uncommon among ordinary blacks. Most blacks favored prayer in public schools; most black leaders opposed it. The percentage of blacks opposing abortions was three times that of black leaders who favored it.7
This conservatism is in accord with Farrakhan’s religiosity. All three men whose lives I am reviewing owe much of their leadership in the community to the fact that they are ministers. The political scientist Adolph Reed deplored Jackson’s dependence on the churches in his political campaigns and looked forward, in 1986, to a secular black leadership free of religion.8 He must still be looking forward to it. The sight of black leaders scrambling to be part of Farrakhan’s 1996 march showed what power still comes from the core of black communal memory. As Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates confessed:
The truth is that blacks—across the economic and ideological spectrum—often feel astonishingly vulnerable to charges of inauthenticity, of disloyalty to the race. I know that I do, despite my vigorous efforts to deconstruct that vocabulary of reproach. Farrakhan’s sway over blacks—the answering chord his rhetoric finds—attests to the enduring strength of our own feelings of guilt, our own anxieties of having been false to our people, of having sinned against our innermost identity.9
As the earlier quotation from Father LaFarge indicates, this feeling of responsibility in blacks who succeed is not new. But it has been given new emphasis by the very breakdown of certain older ties. The advantage of the ghetto, amid all its disadvantages as well as injustices, was the solidarity it provided those needing mutual support, including the protective surveillance of the young. Much of that has broken down in a time of drugs, mobility, joblessness, and a weakened family, weakened among whites as well as blacks. When blacks look back—with, no doubt, the exaggeration of nostalgia—to the time of Jackson’s “love triangle,” to the territory where Young’s use of family names was a talisman, to the Roxbury enclave of Gene Walcott, they remember a world with important similarities to the Muslim community, or at least to the idealized version of it that outsiders see. This is a conservative yearning, not a radical one.
It is strange that whites are trying to recover the virtues of community, of neighborhood, of family, of mutual support, at the very time when black communalism is denounced as destructive of social comity, or that blacks are asked to become good secular individualists just when the right is showing how effective religion can be in American politics. The community Farrakhan has built and tried to maintain is a faulty one, especially in the anti-Semitism he preaches; but a healthier community will not be the result of denying all of the virtues most blacks see in his effort. That is why it is futile to use Farrakhan as a litmus test for other blacks, demanding that they refuse contact with him as a condition of being accepted in the political arena. This offends blacks, not only for the reasons Professor Gates mentions, but because it assumes that whites set the rules for black political activity. Senator Kennedy is not told, in each of his election campaigns, that re-election to the Senate depends on his denouncing Jesse Helms and refusing all traf-fic with him. If Farrakhan’s overtures to Jews are to be encouraged—as Magida encourages them, even while calling them inadequate—it will not be by trying to set up a kind of apartheid between him and other blacks.
Jesse Jackson, it is now well known, was the bastard of his mother’s neighbor, an older married man whom Jesse grew up admiring. He was not bitter about the fact that he lived in his mother’s poorer house. He saw in the dignified Noah Robinson certain qualities for which he forgave him his indiscretion. Robinson in turn was proud of the son to whom he expressed his regret for their awkward relationship.
It was from his father’s family that Jesse derived the ambition to preach. He was named for his Robinson grandfather, who made up a preaching team with his twin brother, Jacob. The two, Jesse and Jacob, would preach together in an antiphonal style Noah Robinson described to me as anticipating Jesse’s “I am somebody” call-and-response. Jesse Robinson would quote Jesus: “I am the way,” and Jacob would pick it up: “and the truth.”
From his early days Jackson had an extraordinary flair for language, one that he associated with the sermons of his pastor, D.S. Sample, whom he would hang around and pester with questions about the texts Sample had preached. Another important mentor was Jesse’s football coach, Joe Mathis, who advised him on many things other than sports. Jackson’s eagerness to please such surrogate fathers would later offend SCLC staffers when he tried to crash through to instant intimacy with the reserved Dr. King.
This eagerness to please went with a sincere deference to the values of the community he was in. In Marshall Frady’s biography of Jackson, a teacher remembers him as “almost abnormally conscientious” in his schoolwork, getting assignments ahead of time to work on them during football trips. Although his schoolmates admired his poise and self-confidence around whites, that impression came as much from his polite manner as from any disdain he might have shown them. Andrew Young’s father taught him to pity white ignorance, as a shield to his own sense of worth. But Noah Robinson had managed to preserve his dignity as a cotton-grader for white owners who respected his expertise. That was Jackson’s model. He would prevail by excellence, and his dreams of a high destiny—literal dreams at times—were connected with his verbal ability to preach the gospel.
At his North Carolina college, where he was the star quarterback, Jackson was slow at first to hear a moral call to engage in the sit-ins that had just begun at segregated lunch counters. When he adverted to them, it was apparently more from a sense that he as a leader should be there than from a sense of injustice. That moral awareness he would preach into himself as he got out in front of his first marches. While attending the Chicago Theological Seminary, he yearned to join Dr. King, and did, pushing his way to the fore in any assignment he could wring from the SCLC leader.
After King’s death—and especially when Jackson called for blacks to support him in his first presidential race (1984)—disgruntled staffers of Dr. King said that Jackson was just a lover of the spotlight, that Dr. King resented his pushiness, that the latecomer was trying to usurp King’s mantle. The egomaniacal James Bevel, of all people, told a gullible Gail Sheehy that Jackson was too egotistical. 10
In fact, as Andrew Young later admitted, Jackson joined the SCLC at a time when it was deeply divided over strategy and several staffers were pushing hard to be King’s alter ego:
Reporters since then have taken Jesse in isolation, but everybody irritated everybody. We basically rounded up all these eccentric types, almost all of them self-styled prophets with a kind of messianism that can be troublesome, but that’s what it took. Martin always said, look, normal people don’t challenge the law of the land. He said you got to be creatively maladjusted. We need people who’ll disturb, who’ll trouble the waters. But there was constant irritation. Nobody got along.
Not only were the older SCLC members at odds—some advising against King’s Chicago campaign, others (including Jackson) resenting his interruption of that campaign to go help the garbage strikers in Memphis—but a younger cadre of activists, typified by Stokely Carmichael of SNCC, was wearying of King’s nonviolent ways. Still others were drawn to Malcolm X, who had ridiculed King, calling the March on Washington “the farce in Washington.” Even younger SCLC types had taken to calling King “De Lawd,” mocking his preacherly mannerisms.
What is interesting about Jackson in this context is that he did not go off with the new people on the scene—to SNCC or the Muslims, much less to the Black Panthers. He came of age in the movement when the hot voices being raised or about to be heard belonged to Carmichael, to Bobby Seale, to H. Rap Brown, to Claude Brown, to Eldridge Cleaver. Those who resented the youngster’s late arrival beside King could not recognize that he was the main, practically the only, new face to accept King’s message entirely. And he proved over time that he was more stable and disciplined in staying with the nonviolent activism of King than were Abernathy or Bevel or Williams. Only Andrew Young equaled Jackson in composure and perseverance, and Young came to see in time that Jackson was in fact King’s successor. In 1984, Young sent a message to Jackson’s hotel room after Jackson had given an address to Democratic officials. It said, “You make me proud and humble when I hear you speak. Martin would be proud, too. You have my full endorsement as the moral voice of our time.”
But the path from Dr. King’s death in 1968 to Young’s endorsement had been a rocky and acrimonious one. The SCLC was committed to its Poor People’s Campaign in Washington by Dr. King’s prior decision, though few had any enthusiasm for it after his death. The 1968 encampment on the Mall degenerated into an unhygienic mud hole (“Resurrection City”) plagued by rain and quarrels. The SCLC members withdrew to hotel rooms, and a surly crowd ready to attack the nation’s monuments was turned back only by Jackson, who shouted to the disaffected: “If I am somebody, I don’t go out and burn up and tear down. People who are somebody gather up their strength for another fight for the good of the people.” Roger Wilkins, who was watching, said afterward: “He preached the riot out of that crowd. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”
In the years after the debacle of Resurrection City, Abernathy, King’s successor in the SCLC, proved that he lacked the moral authority to keep the organization moving. Veterans of the movement drifted off, some into politics, others into dissipation. Jackson returned to his economic program in Chicago, turning the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket into PUSH—People United to Save (later changed to Serve) Humanity. This gave him a pulpit to preach from and a network around the country of corporations he engaged in his black capitalism campaign. This work with “the system” alienated leftists.
In the vacuum created by the collapse of the activist civil rights organizations, Jackson scrambled inventively to keep the movement alive, looking to the schools, the unions, other minorities for allies. This effort appeared sporadic, and Jackson was criticized for not sticking with one thing. But those blacks who stuck with one thing disappeared into their electoral office or local association. Jackson’s need for the spotlight and for headlines prodded him to things more dramatic, more national in scale.
People forget that King, too, was accused of spreading himself too thin, of dropping projects (like the Chicago campaign), jumping unprepared into other things (the Memphis garbage strike, the peace movement, economic radicalism). His movement was also called headline-seeking. His financial accounts were kept haphazardly. But all that was forgotten in the post-assassination glow around King, which was used by envious veterans of the movement to keep saying, in effect, to Jackson: “I knew Dr. King. Dr. King was my friend. You’re no Dr. King.”
Thus when Jackson decided to run for President in 1984, the civil rights leadership—“the Family,” as they called themselves—coalesced in disapproval (Coretta King, Andrew Young, the NAACP’s Benjamin Hooks, the SCLC’s director at that time, Joseph Lowery, and mayors like Coleman Young and Tom Bradley). They said a collective “no” for themselves and for blacks in general. There was only one problem: they no longer spoke for blacks in general. Jackson was far more popular than any of them (three or four times more popular with blacks than Young, the only other veteran of the movement with a high national profile). In fact, Jackson was more popular with blacks than King had been at a similar stage of his career (before the March on Washington). King was opposed by the older civil rights movement. Young tells us, in his book, how his own father agreed with Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young that King was destroying decades of hard work in the courts with his street theatrics.
So in 1983, when Jackson made his “exploratory” tour to see if he had enough support for a presidential campaign—the tour where he was greeted everywhere with shouts of “Run, Jesse, run!”—he was collecting an endorsement “from the bottom up” that cancelled the legitimacy of the veto that had been handed down from above. Yet much of the white press decided that Jackson was still an illegitimate usurper disowned by his own family.
The real dynamics of the situation emerged at the San Francisco Democratic convention of 1984, where Andrew Young was booed by black delegates in the general session. This was so traumatic to the Family that a crisis session was called by the Black Caucus at the convention. When Coretta King rose there, she was booed by the delegates, and Andrew Young slipped quietly out the door. Things were beginning to get ugly. When Mrs. King reminded people of what her husband had done, young delegates shouted back: “That was yesterday! What have you done recently!” It had not yet sunk in with the Family that insofar as there was a national civil rights campaign in the 1970s, it had been Jesse Jackson’s. He had spent a decade traveling around to high schools, preaching his message of discipline, study, abstinence: “No more babies making babies! Down with dope! Up with hope!”
These travels, too, had been criticized, as emotional sessions with no follow-up. But what was he supposed to do, stay in one school all year? A white teacher in Baltimore told me that Jackson’s visits made her life easier for months—better discipline, higher morale. She only wished he would come more often (he tried to make it once a year). If teachers could not build on that, it was their failing. For the delegates in San Francisco Jackson was a living person they had met, not a dead martyr they revered. He had campaigned for their local candidates. He had told their children to drag them into PTA meetings. The only criticism many of them later made of Jackson was to say he should not have apologized in his speech to the general convention for having offended anyone (read: Jews).
Ms. King was stranded now before this hostile crowd; but Jackson had been informed of the trouble, and he arrived to rush to the platform and hug her. Then he turned to the people and said “Shame!” that they should be disrespectful to a woman who had led the fight when her children were threatened, her house bombed, her husband killed. Then he led a chastened crowd in singing “We Shall Overcome,” hands linked, Jesse and Coretta in the middle of the swaying line onstage. No other black in America could have effected that reconciliation at that overheated moment. Had he any inclination to gloat or feel vindicated, that was the justification for it. Andrew Young told the journalist Ken Bode that Mrs. King had been the most opposed to Jackson’s presidential candidacy. But when I later asked Jackson about the incident, in a way that would encourage any triumphalism, he refused to express any emotion except amazement that she had been treated that way. He would soon express pride when she called him “my son” at a ceremony in Atlanta. It was shortly after the convention that Young sent his message to Jackson saying Martin would be proud of him.11
Marshall Frady devotes less than one page of his wordy 542 pages to that emblematic caucus scene in San Francisco. That is one indication of his book’s many problems. For all its sensitivity to Jackson’s complex psyche, the book lacks structure, proportion, chronological markers, context, and an index. That last flaw is important, since it covers (somewhat) the fact that we do not meet names that we should expect, if not demand to find here. God knows, Jesse Jackson is a one-man show—but to nowhere near the extent Frady would indicate.
For instance, Frady quotes a Washington Post article by Paul Taylor on a World Policy Institute survey taken after the 1988 campaign. It asked how many people would vote for a candidate whose platform was this:
- Spending $200 billion a year more on research and technology, job training, rebuilding roads and railways, cleaning up toxic and nuclear waste dumps, investing in education, building low-income housing to reduce homelessness, fighting drugs and expanding care for the elderly. 2. Cutting $125 billion a year from the military budget by turning over to Europe and Japan greater responsibility for their own defense. 3. Raising $125 billion a year in new taxes on upper income households (over $80,000 a year) and corporations.
To many that program would just sound like a liberal wish list, with no way to fund it (except defense cuts and hard-to-pass taxes). But Jackson had a well-thought-out program for infrastructure rebuilding (which is also a jobs program)—paid for by borrowing 10 percent of the nation’s vast pension reserves, a borrowing that income from the new economic activity would make it easy to repay. Jackson’s economic plans may not have been perfect, but they were serious, worth talking about. Frady does not discuss it with Jackson, or even ask how he came up with it.
In 1987, Jackson submitted himself to a crash course in economics with Carol O’Cleireacain, whose doctorate is from the London School of Economics and who advised District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municiple Employees union on pension policy. She was later New York Mayor Dinkins’s budget director (they had met during the Jackson campaign), and now directs study of the DC budget at the Brookings Institution. She says that Jackson, the non-stop talker, was a very good listener as she took him through her own ideas on the economy. The only problem is that he would jump ahead and see the point before she could make it, anticipating her next step. The program that the World Policy Institute presented was formulated by Howard University political scientist Ron Walters and Jackson adviser Frank Clemente, who used a team of people like O’Cleireacain.
Another example. Frady mentions Jackson’s futile hope to become Clinton’s running mate in 1992. That was a delusion on Jackson’s part. But Frady notes in passing that Jackson backed it up with “a ten-page single-spaced memorandum.” He does not tell us what was in it, or that the author, Steve Cobble, drew it up on his own and urged Jackson to act on it, against some reluctance on Jackson’s part.
The memorandum was not silly, as one might expect. It made some sound arguments on Clinton’s need for enthusiastic (not merely dutiful) black support, using hard numbers. Cobble had run Jackson’s delegate selection operation in 1988—which was “absolutely crucial” to Jackson’s successes then, according to Bob Borosage, the Jackson campaign aide. Cobble’s political strategy had taken Jackson to levels of support no one expected in 1988. His advice was not to be scorned in 1992, though he admittedly made a long-shot proposal.
Cobble and O’Cleireacain are not even mentioned by Frady. Others are mentioned, but only fleetingly—Ron Walters, for instance, or Frank Watkins (Jackson’s longtime white aide, the writer of his position papers and of the newspaper column he used to syndicate). Gerald Austin, the 1984 campaign director, is mentioned only at the moment of his dismissal, though the Jewish Austin did hard work trying to get Jackson back together with Jews. Ron Brown’s conduct of Jackson’s 1988 convention work is referred to, but not described in detail, though his cooperation with Harold Ickes brought about the rules changes that allowed Jackson to claim some victories and campaign energetically for the Dukakis ticket despite Dukakis’s obvious discomfort with the “hot” presence of Jackson and the blizzard of ideas Jackson shook down on him.
Jackson is a shrewd tactician, and a master of presenting ideas in ways that his particular audience can accept. That explains his successes with corporations he bargained into deals they never intended to strike when he came in the door. It also explains his diplomatic finesse in extracting hostages from various governments. Jackson can be almost magically persuasive if you are exposed to him for long.
I found that out during one long day in the 1984 “exploratory” campaign when I was the only journalist following him from city to city. Early on we started arguing about disarmament. I said that a unilateral cutback to establish good faith was needed to get the process started again. He said that was unrealistic, that a more energetic pursuit of Nixon’s strategy for reciprocal nuclear disarmament (in abeyance under Reagan) was called for. I was clearly not persuaded. All through a long day of appearances and intense discussion on and off the plane, he kept coming back to disarmament with a new argument he thought I might buy. No? Soon he had another one. And so it went through the day. He was probably right, but I was not going to admit it. He would not give up till he had “sold” me, and I must say his arguments got stronger and more subtle. Obviously his quick mind was working on this even as he greeted local friends, talked to high school students, joked with the drivers to and from the airport.
In 1988, Jackson had a great many ideas to offer the sadly inept Dukakis. Ann Lewis had worked with Jackson in 1986—one year before the 1988 campaign began—on the effort to block Robert Bork’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Whatever one thinks of the merit of that campaign, it had drawn together a coalition that worked wonders, making Bork’s ratings so unfavorable with women, unions, blacks, and civil libertarians that the Senate could not defy public dismay over the man.
Lewis saw this coalition as the obvious framework for the Democratic campaign of 1988. As Jackson put it on the stump: “If blacks vote in great numbers, progressive whites win. It is the only way progressive whites win. If blacks vote in great numbers, Hispanics win. When blacks, Hispanics, and progressive whites win, workers win, and women win.” But Dukakis ran from the liberal label, shunned Jackson, lost women voters with things like his cool response to the idea of his wife being raped. Jackson watched in disgust, shaking his head at the fact that the national campaign wanted no ideas from him, just rallies to turn out the black vote.
In the Dukakis shambles, the real victories were hidden ones. The black turnout in 1986 had given the margin of votes that sealed Bork’s fate. The black campaign activity around Jackson in 1988 led to vigorous local politics, to races won or about to be won. Those involved in the Jackson effort were elected themselves in that or subsequent elections (people like Cynthia McKinney in Georgia, or Cleo Fields in Louisiana, who both won House seats). Jackson has been criticized for never holding political office. But, as Falstaff says of mirth, Jackson is the cause of officeholding in others.
And it should be remembered that Jackson raised black voting levels first in 1984, and then in 1988, during the time of Reagan’s greatest popularity. Young made an interesting observation to Frady—that the early SCLC had the support (always timorous but solicitable) of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, while Jackson faced an opposing Reagan White House:
Jesse paid a high price in those [1984 and 1988] campaigns, but I think he may well have saved the country with them, at that critical time during Reagan. He restored a mass focus on black concerns, on poverty and other conditions holding a real danger of social disruption if left ignored. He inspired great hope in the black community. And his voter-registration efforts brought a liberalization of the makeup of Congress—it was how we got forty blacks in the House, how we got those Democratic victories in the Senate.
Bob Beckel, Mondale’s campaign director in 1984, says something similar about a Jackson victory in that year: “the [Democratic] white establishment never did get it that the Senate came into Democratic hands only because of Jackson’s voter-registration drives in the South, but I know that to be true.” In other words, not only black candidates but liberal white ones have been Jackson’s beneficiaries—in that election alone, Senators Breaux, Fowler, Sanford, Cranston, Shelby, Mikulski, Graham, Wirth, and Daschle. This explains why Henry Louis Gates says he does not think of Jackson as the leading spokesman of blacks, but of the entire left. Besides, if the press and television had been listening to the policy content of Jackson’s speeches, they would have heard four years earlier the analysis of the global economy and its impact on workers’ lives that Perot later made much of.
These political matters do not much interest Marshall Frady. He is more interested in novelist’s details about a person—the texture of his voice, his capacity for emotion, the interior hurts he may reveal. At these, Frady is very good. He trailed around with Jackson, tape recorder turning, on trips abroad, on a nostalgic journey to Jackson’s boyhood home, and around his Chicago house. The best part of his book, which is also the major part, is just Jackson talking—always fascinating, since Jackson has a penetrating mind, an ear for language, and a vivid imagination. Frady is a very good interviewer, one who gets Jackson’s wife, Jackie, to reveal far more than she has to any other writer.
It takes no spelunker’s skill to grapple up out of Jackson’s interior the born bastard’s desire to belong. But Frady shows how the swift thinker can become a pouty child when his feelings are hurt. We learn that he is hard on staff, that he has been unfaithful to his wife (not surprising, though not condonable, in one who combines the black preacher with the show-biz celebrity). But he is also a devoted family man who, with his strong wife, gave his children a stable and loving upbringing. Frady witnesses scenes where Jackson shows deep and convincing empathy with others’ sufferings. He finds that Jackson thinks of his religious ministry not merely as a matter of leading or instructing but also of comforting.
The book is generally in soft focus, long on sympathy, short on analysis. We see more the disappointed Jackson than the ambitious one. But Jackson’s ambition is tremendous, and it is something many people seem unwilling to forgive him for. FDR and John Kennedy yielded to few in their ambition—perhaps only to Lincoln, whom his admiring law partner described in this way: “He was always calculating, and always planning ahead. His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.” 12 The urge to pre-eminence condoned or admired in whites is treated as unseemly in a black, who should “know his place.”
Yet it is hard to get very worked up about an ambition whose fanciful reach was to become Bill Clinton’s running mate. What other outré things has Jackson been driven to? To register black voters, bringing them into the system. To continue Dr. King’s legacy of nonviolent activism when others were deserting it from impatience or despair. To unite the disadvantaged in a coalition of mutual support. Pretty wild stuff, eh? His current plans seem to run toward playing the elder statesman while he takes delight in the career of his articulate son, Jesse Jr., elected to Congress in 1994 from a district in Chicago.
Three stories, very different, very similar, very American—not least because they are stories of religion. America, we are often reminded, is more overtly and continually religious than any other industrialized modern nation; and, in America, only the religious right outpolls African Americans in professions of religious belief and practice. Farrakhan’s Million Man March was more American than African. Like other religions here, Muslimism never gets far from the gospel of success as measured in market terms. That binds together even the new and “odd” religions of our country, whether Shakers or Quakers, Mormons or Muslims.13
Yet blacks want, like the rest of us, to achieve individual success without severing communal ties, to family and fellow believers, to sharers of their historical experience. They want the kind of rewards achieved in the past by whites, without giving up the sweet memories of bitter things endured by their heroic ancestors. Marshall Frady, like other Southern writers, seems to have a special sympathy for the blacks who were the victims of his own forebears. Southerners, too, faced the task of building an identity out of defeat. Some of them have been hesitant about their entry into the modern world of bustle and enterprise. They, too, move forward looking back. Most of us do. The different careers of these three men are part of one larger story—which all of us are part of.
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
September 19, 1996
Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 (Touchstone Books, 1989). ↩
Andrew Young, A Way Out of No Way: The Spiritual Memoirs of Andrew Young (Thomas Nelson, 1994). ↩
John LaFarge, S.J., Interracial Justice: A Study of the Catholic Doctrine of Race Relations (America Press, 1937), p. 116. ↩
See, for instance, Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (Vintage, 1995), pp. 98-111. ↩
Saint Augustine, Sermon 117.5 (compare Sermon 341.9). ↩
For the Catholic Church’s inability, as late as 1938, to escape its own anti-Jewish readings of the New Testament, see the tale of an aborted papal encyclical on racism, Humani Generis Unitas, told in the forthcoming Harcourt Brace book, The Hidden Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, by Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, with an introduction by Garry Wills. ↩
Some conservatives praise the self-reliant aspects of Muslimism. Carol Iannone, a protégé of Lynn Cheney when the latter was in charge of the National Endowment for the Humanities, wrote that Malcolm X, with his emphasis on earning your own way, was preferable to Dr. King, “a privileged middle-class liberal” with leanings toward “socialism.” See Iannone, “Bad Rap For Malcolm X,” National Review, December 14, 1992, pp. 47-49. ↩
Adolph Reed, Jr., The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon: The Crisis of Purpose in Afro-American Politics (Yale University Press, 1986). ↩
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “The Charmer,” The New Yorker, April 29 and May 6, 1996, p. 118. ↩
“Jesse Jackson: The Power or the Glory?” Vanity Fair, January 1988, p. 46. ↩
After the Family gave up its attempt to deny Martin Luther King’s blessing to Jackson, trustworthy witnesses—Young and Reverend Billy Kyles—admitted that, yes, Jesse did dip his hand in King’s blood. Justice Department official James Lane saw him by King’s body, though for years reporters relied on Hosea Williams’s heated denial that Jackson got anywhere near the dead leader. Williams was never a disinterested witness where Jackson was concerned. But Jackson did not, as he claimed, cradle King’s head—except in the sense that Walt Whitman cradled Lincoln’s in “Oh Captain, My Captain”: ↩
Herndon’s Life of Lincoln (Da Capo, 1983), p. 304. ↩
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote of Thoreau: “It was his ambition to be an oriental philosopher; but he was always a very Yankee sort of oriental.” (Stevenson, Selected Essays, Gateway, 1988, p. 136). We should conclude as well that Farrakhan is a very Yankee sort of Mohammedan. ↩