The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson

The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson

[This transcript is provided as a service of Journal Graphics. The WGBH Educational Foundation is not responsible for any errors or mischaracterizations in this transcript. JES]

FRONTLINE Show #1415
Air Date: April 30, 1996

ANNOUNCER: For the past six years, writer Marshall Frady has been working on a biography of the man he refers to as "a great American character." Frady first noticed what he calls Jesse Jackson's "unusual vitality" while covering the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

MARSHAL FRADY: Curiously enough, as_ as clamorously as he has seemed to be in our public life, Jesse is an undiscovered protagonist. He has always been a far larger and more interestingly mixed figure than the common journalistic take on him.


JESSE JACKSON: What do I want?

ANNOUNCER: _an intimate portrait of Jesse Jackson_

JESSE JACKSON: I want to make America better!

ANNOUNCER: _his lifelong mission and a revealing look at what drives him on.

JESSE JACKSON: I want peace in the world! I want to wipe out malnutrition!

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, "The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson."

MARSHALL FRADY: Jesse Jackson thinks in motion, is not at home apprehending things from stillness. He lives in constant, headlong movement as if, should he cease moving, he would himself cease, disappear.

One night in 1988, while flying between campaign rallies, Jackson said to me about other politicians, "They all go back home sooner or later. I have no home to go back to. The road is my home."

JESSE JACKSON: We want a renewed commitment to inclusiveness and to fairness to_

MARSHALL FRADY: In the eight years since, Jesse Jackson has become less and less certain where that road will ultimately lead him. Many regard him as an anachronism. As a new conservative mood swept the country, other black voices _ Colin Powell, Louis Farrakhan _ captured the nation's attention. Jackson seems to have no place to be. That has only caused him to move faster.

JESSE JACKSON: It's a treacherous journey, but God will see us through. We can't let a day go by. Can't let a day go by. Love you!

MARSHALL FRADY: For years the press has been asking these questions: Why does Jesse run? What does Jesse want? Tonight we pose a different question: Why can't Jesse stop?

You have to understand where he came from and where he's been headed. "I'm just a kid from Greenville, South Carolina," he once said, "trying to change the world."

VIVIAN TAYLOR, Neighbor: She was one of the most attractive women you would want to see at the time when this boy was born. She had it all. She had some kind of talent as a singer. Most people don't know, but she would have run Mahalia Jackson off of the stage. She was a star. And that is true. She was a star.

MARSHALL FRADY: Helen Burns had a plan. She was going to music college. After that, maybe concert stages in Chicago, even Broadway. But at 16, at the height of her promise, she found herself pregnant. The father was a man in his mid-30s who lived next door with his wife and three stepchildren.

HELEN JACKSON, Mother: I prayed and, you know, and I said, "Well, how can this happen to me?" you know, and the children was coming from school and like that and they_ they saw the doctor's car there, you know, and they was looking like they were wondering what was happening and all that.

MARSHALL FRADY: Helen's mother told her daughter not to cry out during the labor. She didn't want the neighbors to hear what was going on. So Jesse Louis Burns was born quietly on October 8th, 1941, into one of the poorest corners of Greenville's black community.

VIVIAN TAYLOR: They were barely making it. Parsimony reigned supreme. They had no more than I had, and that was nothing.

MARSHALL FRADY: During the short period that his father remained next door, Jess's grandmother more than once shouted through his window, "You bring this baby some milk. We're hurting over here." Despite occasional discrete donations, Jess's natural father avoided any open contact with his son. In elementary school, Jesse was called "bastard" by neighbors and taunted by his classmates. Years later, when he would recount his boyhood to friends, the hurt was still raw.

CALVIN MORRIS, Fraternity Brother: "Yes, this was my background, but I'm really about something and I'm going to be something and I'm going to show those people. I will have the last laugh."

MARSHALL FRADY: Early on, Jess's natural father moved his wife and new sons across town, where he flourished as a cotton grader for a white-owned firm.

J.D. MATHIS, Football Coach: Well, Noah was_ we_ we thought he was probably one of the top five well-to-do black men in this general area and we all respected him_ Noah_ Noah Robinson.

CALVIN MORRIS: Somehow, his father did not have to "Tom." The father did not have to grovel. The father had an ability to relate to_ to white people, as much as one could be in the segregated South, as an equal. He's very appreciative of that in his dad and very proud of his father and very proud of his father's success.

I_ I think there were some other things that was ambivalent because much of that success Jesse was not an immediate recipient of because he didn't live in the house. He didn't have the father's last name. He was not one of the privileged children of the father. But he still identified with_ with his dad.

MARSHALL FRADY: Once Noah Robinson found 9-year-old Jesse standing outside his house, staring in the window. But in the home where he lived with his grandmother, his mother, her husband now, Charles Jackson, a janitor, and their son together, Charles, Jr., Jesse Burns began to get the sense that he, like his natural father, was something out of the ordinary. Who mainly imparted this belief was his grandmother, Mathilda Burns, commonly called Tibby.

HELEN JACKSON: She was strong, much stronger than I am. I had two of three more days in school than she did, but what she had, you don't get it in school, you see? You know, you don't get that in school.

MARSHALL FRADY: Tibby would leave each dawn for work as a domestic for Greenville's white gentry. And though she never learned to read, she would memorize the covers of books Jesse needed and borrow them from the households of her employers. "For God's sakes," she used to tell him, "promise me you will be somebody."

HERMENE HARTMAN, Family Friend: She has said things to me like, "I've always known he was special. He's always been special." The way she says it is, "Jesse can see."

MARSHALL FRADY: Most of all, Tibby affirmed for him his own sense that he possessed outsized gifts. From that came his outsized hunger to make himself into someone far greater than the lot he had been born into. That would become his lifetime's obsession, along with an eagerness to have his special promise recognized.

VIVIAN TAYLOR: He just did things that the ordinary child his age did not do. He liked attention and those big words brought him attention.

J.D. MATHIS: Always got something in his mouth. He had the gift of gab, you know? He had that. And then the other thing was he would be a head and shoulder above the other kids coming down the hall, so he demanded respect and he got it.

MARSHALL FRADY: By high school, Jesse had become a young prince within Greenville's segregated black community: honor student, class officer, energetic member of his church. Among his elders, he cultivated his image as a model citizen. He was regarded by mothers, grandmothers and aunts as the safest escort in town.

But it was in performances in high school football games that Jesse Burns came into his first true public magnification. Coach J.D. Mathis had chosen and groomed Jesse as his quarterback, the team leader.

J.D. MATHIS: We were calling audibles way back then. Jesse would come up to the line _ of course, we taught him _ and he'd look over the defense and see where somebody was out of place. He called the play to hit the weak spot every trip. Every trip. So that was something else. He was real heavy. He could remember anything up in that head.

Now, sometimes ego would want to, you know, get to him and "I'm the big man" and this sort of thing and "I got to shine. And I can run the show." I said, "Uh-uh. We don't play that. I run the show. you do what I say to do or you sit over here near me." Oh, boy!

MARSHALL FRADY: As Jesse Burns began to acquire a measure of celebrity in Greenville, Noah Robinson could no longer resist claiming him as his own.

J.D. MATHIS: "This is my son," you know, and then he would do something good for him_ some money or some clothing or a little job_ this sort of thing. "This is my boy."

MARSHALL FRADY: As for his stepfather, Charles Jackson, Sr., he would pass around Jess's newspaper clippings. "Going to be the first Negro quarterback in the NFL," he'd say. When Jesse was a sophomore in high school, Charles Jackson brought him some news.

VIVIAN TAYLOR: He said, "I do not want my boys going to school with different names." So Jesse was adopted and, as you know, he took the name Jackson.

MARSHALL FRADY: In his senior year, Jesse Jackson won a football scholarship to a Big 10 university. No Negro boy from Greenville had ever done that. But that achievement alone was not enough for Jesse. He wanted everybody to know it. At graduation exercises, when all the students who won scholarships were supposed to be recognized, Jesse was overlooked.

HELEN JACKSON: They had called everybody's name but his and he had won a four-year scholarship to the University of Illinois in Champaign. He was so hurt because when he_ after they marched and he come down there, you know, to talk with us and all, he said, "Wonder why they didn't call my name." And, you know, he started crying some then. And we said, "Oh, you know people forget. You know, that doesn't"_ his dad said, "Oh, man, you know how everything is," and all that. "But they should have called my name that I won that and that was the highest" and he was the first.

MARSHALL FRADY: But a harsher hurt for Jesse had been growing up in the humiliations of Greenville's segregated society. At Illinois, Jesse thought, he would finally be allowed to enter the main story of American life.

In fact, in the fall of 1959, he found a more insidious form of racism on that northern campus. The few black athletes were kept apart from the rest of the students, warned to stay away from white co-eds. And Jesse himself was trailed by calls of "Nigger."

After a year, he left the school, telling the folks in Greenville that the coaches wouldn't play a black quarterback, though the truth was, on the field he had been something less than outstanding.

He retreated back south, to Greensboro, North Carolina, and a small black college recently in the national news. The winter before, students at North Carolina A&T had begun a sit-in movement that spread across the South. But Jesse wasn't planning to become involved in those turmoils.

At A&T he was soon a star athlete, superintendent of the campus Sunday school, national officer in an elite black fraternity. He carried himself with a proprietary air reminiscent of Noah Robinson. The first time he saw Jacqueline Brown, he yelled to her, "Hey, girl, I'm gonna marry you!"

JACQUELINE JACKSON, Wife: And I started running. From that moment on, when I did see him, he would ask me when had I been to church. And he went to work in the office at the school and he came back to share with me my grades, to tell me that I had to do better and I had to be in_ in my classes, which I just felt him to be overbearing. You know, he was just too much.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackie Brown was a lively mix. She dressed and danced flamboyantly, ran around campus in her bare feet and thought she might like to be a nun. She had a way of looking at the world that comforted Jesse.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: He came to me one day and we were talking about the color problem in the black community, the class problem in the black community. And he said, "And I'm a bastard." And I said, "And I'm one, too, and I thought most people were one."

MARSHALL FRADY: Soon after Jesse and Jackie married on New Year's Eve, 1962, the sit-in movement, which had lapsed into a long, flat lull, began to stir back to life.

Rev. A. KNIGHTON STANLEY, Campus Ministry: Jesse, like so many other college students, was in search of self and he was not sure at what point he should commit. So Jesse was quite late in his commitment in the Greensboro movement.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: Your stay at school was in jeopardy. You could be expelled and that would be disappointing for your family that you were thrown out of school for this. So there were a lot of decisions to be made. And he stood and he made the right decisions.

MARSHALL FRADY: At 21, Jackson was suddenly at the center of the Civil Rights movement in Greensboro.

JESSE JACKSON: May I be admitted?

BOYD MORRIS: No, siree, you cannot be admitted!


BOYD MORRIS: I am not going to serve you.

JESSE JACKSON: Because of my race?

BOYD MORRIS: I'm not going to serve you.

JESSE JACKSON: Because of my race?

BOYD MORRIS: Move on! I'm not going to serve you.

JESSE JACKSON: Why? Why don't I qualify? I'm human.

BOYD MORRIS: I'm not going to serve you.

JESSE JACKSON: I don't dislike you, Boyd.

BOYD MORRIS: I don't dislike you.

JESSE JACKSON: Then why won't you serve me?

BOYD MORRIS: I am not going to serve demonstrators today, tomorrow or any day.

JESSE JACKSON: But if I came back by myself, would you serve me?

BOYD MORRIS: No! You're a demonstrator.

JESSE JACKSON: I wouldn't be demonstrating.

BOYD MORRIS: You're a demonstrator.

MARSHALL FRADY: For Jesse Jackson, it was like a fever. "It took me out of myself," he later declared. As the demonstrations mounted, city officials fretted about maintaining order. One evening in early June, with freedom songs echoing off the buildings of downtown Greensboro and local reporters checking overhead for snipers, Jackson led 500 marchers toward the county court house.

A. KNIGHTON STANLEY: Jesse improvised on us and when they got there, he insisted that they simply lay down in the middle of this intersection in the street.

MARSHALL FRADY: The police were desperate. The following day, a warrant was issued for Jackson's arrest. "This movement cannot be stopped by sending me to jail," Jackson told a gathering at the Church of the Redeemer that morning. Then, emerging before a small company of print reporters and television cameras, he surrendered.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: We were children, very young people, and we were dealing with adults. We were dealing with angry white adults and it wasn't a very pleasant kind of experience.

A. KNIGHTON STANLEY: Jesse was very somber as he was being led off to jail and his head was down. I think it was a very serious and contemplative moment in his life.

MARSHALL FRADY: The film made the local news that day and students distributed 10,000 handbills: "Your great leader has been arrested."

CALVIN MORRIS, Fraternity Brother: One of the things that struck me about Jesse when I first met him was the fact that he saw himself in places that young Negro boys like ourselves didn't_ didn't see. I mean, I saw myself maybe as a college president. That was the biggest thing in the world. Jesse saw himself as the president of the United States, which was crazy. But that's the kind of sense of his own destiny that he had almost from the very first time I met him.

Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside let freedom ring!

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson was deciding on a career just as a black preacher from Atlanta was emerging as a moral prophet to the whole nation. He was exactly the sort of figure Jackson meant to make himself into.

Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: _to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and_

MARSHALL FRADY: While King was accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Jackson was enrolling at a seminary in Chicago. By March of '65, he was a restless graduate student, hankering for the old excitements of the movement.

POLICE OFFICER: Disperse. You are ordered to disperse. Go home or go to your church. This march will not continue.

MARSHALL FRADY: Watching the late news on television one night, he saw something that pulled him back into the conflict, this time for good.

The day after Bloody Sunday, Jackson answered Martin Luther King's call to supporters to come to Selma to join him in the campaign for voting rights. There only three days, Jackson made himself conspicuous, as if in a frenzy of auditioning. He finally got a meeting with King, where he pleaded for a staff position with his Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Though he came back to Chicago without a job, Jackson regarded that as a mere formality.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: He was overwhelmed. He was deeply moved by Dr. King. He wanted to work with him. He had talked with him. And he began immediately to think about things he could do to help him.

MARSHALL FRADY: King had already been casting about for a city in the north where he could extend his non-violent protests. When he settled on Chicago, he needed staff fast. At 23, Jesse Jackson gained entry to King's stormy inner circle.

CALVIN MORRIS: Jesse fought his way into SCLC. From the very beginning there were people who were wary of him and his ambition and warned Dr. King.

ANDREW YOUNG, Former Executive Director, SCLC: Martin always said, "Look, normal people don't challenge the law of the land." He said, "You've got to be strong enough to be creatively maladjusted. We need people around who can't be adjusted, people who have to upset things."

MARSHALL FRADY: Among King's closest confidants were Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy, both calm and deliberate. But King's other lieutenants were hot-wired and fiercely competitive.

ANDREW YOUNG: All of them strong egos, all of them with his own story, all of them in some way, maybe subconsciously, wishing that he was Martin Luther King.

BERNARD LAFAYETTE, Former Staff Member, SCLC: You know, many times he would try to rival Martin Luther King, so_ the whole idea of who can get the audience to rally most_ you know, that kind of thing. So just_ Dr. King saw that in Jesse, you know, and I think one of his comments was, you know, "Your time will come," you know, "Just be patient."

MARSHALL FRADY: In his work, in his life, in his family, Jackson knew only one speed. It amused King.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: I was having children so fast, so Martin Luther King came over to our place and he saw that I was pregnant again and he said, "Jesse, boy, I'm going to have to give you a raise so you can buy you a television so you can find something else to do."

MARSHALL FRADY: While patience was not one of Jackson's virtues, it was one of King's. When Jackson followed King around for hours, carrying on a running philosophical monologue of asking and then answering his own questions, other staffers watched in exasperation. But King simply listened, nodding almost imperceptibly, waiting to get a word on.

ANDREW YOUNG: One of the things that Jesse wanted and needed more than anything in the world was the support and approval of Martin Luther King. Jesse's quite open and honest about this, that growing up as a child, seeing your father in another family, there's almost an irrepressible need for the support from the father that you never got as a child.

REPORTER: Let me talk to you for a minute>

JESSE JACKSON: I was hit three times.

REPORTER: Were any of your other people hit?

JESSE JACKSON: I don't know.

MARSHALL FRADY: King could feel his hunger not just to be noticed, but to do great things. When the Chicago campaign began in earnest, King put Jesse out front, leading marches for open housing. When that campaign failed, King withdrew back to the South. That left Jackson to his own devices in Chicago, running SCLC's economic campaign.

Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: Operation Breadbasket has been a unique and quite a successful program.

MARSHALL FRADY: Breadbasket was a program adopted by King to open up private sector jobs to blacks. Jackson reinvented it whole.

GEORGE JONES, Former President, Joe Louis Milk: When Jesse started with us, he was a theological student. He didn't know what the hell he was talking about. We taught him business. We'd take him into the stores and show him.

JESSE JACKSON: We've found in many of the stores that the quality of food for Negroes is very poor. Sometimes the meat is contaminated. And the prices are extremely high probably because of the laws of supply and demand, being so many Negroes hemmed into a given area. In addition to that, Negro products are not displayed on a Negro market.

WILLIE BARROW, Executive Committee, Operation Breadbasket: He called in the black businesses and he brought in the black bankers and he said, "The black bankers don't know the black exterminators. The exterminators don't know the black manufacturers. The black manufacturers don't know the black professionals." There we were meeting with 200, 300 people every Saturday morning.

JOHN JOHNSON, Chairman, Johnson Publishing: I_ I think he_ he was preaching, but the text was economic, and he found passages in the Bible that supported the theory of helping those who help themselves. It was like a church.

WILLIE BARROW: _black consciousness. You're conscious of black products. That's all it means.

MARSHALL FRADY: Under Jackson, Breadbasket offered its own brand of spiritual counsel to the white companies doing business on the South Side.

WILLIE BARROW: "This is how much money we spend with you. This is what you don't do and this is what you should be doing. And because you've sinned against the glory of God, we're going to have to tell our congregations and our community not to spend money with you."

MARSHALL FRADY: Before long, Breadbasket was winning contracts for black sanitation firms, black exterminators. They convinced South Side businesses to place advertising in black media and open accounts in two new black-owned banks and they negotiated shelf space for products made by black companies.

In less than two years, Breadbasket created nearly 3,000 new jobs for Chicago blacks and enlarged the annual income for the South Side residents by some $20 million.

C.T. VIVIAN, Former Staffer, SCLC: The successes of making these people successful businessmen made them want to give to Operation Breadbasket, want them to see Jesse as leader.

CALVIN MORRIS: There were persons in Chicago, particularly among the business community, who began to say to Jesse, "You're making the revenue. You're generating the revenue, much of it, for the organization. You don't have to_ to be beholden to SCLC."

Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: Well, I've felt that throughout the campaign, we ought to_ it ought to be a continuing, massive lobby-in_

MARSHALL FRADY: While Jackson was building his own domain in Chicago, King was moving beyond simply racial politics. His next venture would, in fact, be his most radical: the Poor People's Campaign, a campaign to lift all the nation's poor and dispossessed.

Rev. MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.: _to find people without adequate food to eat_

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson and others on the staff thought King was unfocused, trying for too much, too radical. When King agreed to go to Memphis in support of striking garbage workers, Jackson refused to join him.

King and Abernathy went alone to Memphis to lead a march. For the first time, demonstrators personally led by King had turned violent.

ANDREW YOUNG: I mean, he was just shattered because he'd miscalculated and he felt as though he was responsible, so the burden of guilt weighed on him. I mean, he spent almost from Monday to Friday alone and he saw almost nobody.

MARSHALL FRADY: King finally called Jackson and the staff to Atlanta for a meeting at his Ebenezer Baptist Church.

ANDREW YOUNG: He said a number of things. One, he said that we let him down and he was very critical of us, of each wanting to follow his own agenda rather than being supportive of him in this effort, as we had in other efforts.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson and other aides agreed to go to Memphis to help King prepare for a second march. Two days later, Jackson called Jackie with news that would mark the rest of his life.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: He called me late one evening and he said, "Jackie, Dr. King has been shot." And he said, "And I want to tell you before you get the news on the television, but he is dead." I said, "What do we do now?" He said, "I don't know, but it's a lot going on down here and I don't understand any of it. They don't want us to speak to the_ the SCLC people don't want to talk to the press until they've met and tried to restructure the group and reorganize it."

And then he stopped again and he said, "Jackie, Dr. King is dead." I think he kept saying it to make himself understand it.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson had been standing 10 feet below King, in the courtyard of the Lorraine Motel, when the shot was fired. After the initial confusion, Jackson had made his way up to the second floor balcony where King lay dying.

ANDREW YOUNG: After they removed his body, Ralph Abernathy got a jar and started scraping up the blood and said_ you know, and crying, it was Martin's precious blood. "This blood was shed for us." It was_ you know, it was weird, but people freaked out and did strange things. Jesse put his hands in the blood and wiped it on the front of his shirt, see, and it was_ it was_ I mean, what do you do in a moment like that?

MARSHALL FRADY: Abernathy, Young and others went to the hospital. Jesse was left behind at the Lorraine, where the media began to swarm.

JESSE JACKSON: [April 4, 1968] I need to see Dr. King. Can I get a ride to see Dr. King?

REPORTER: Say, Reverend_

JESSE JACKSON: Can you excuse us, Jack?

REPORTER: Will you tell me just what happened, please?

JESSE JACKSON: Can it wait a little while?

REPORTER: Would you tell me just what happened so can get this film in, please?

CALVIN MORRIS: Jesse always senses the moment, and it was an epochal moment, and he was there.

JESSE JACKSON: The black people's leader, our Moses, the once in a 400 or 500-year leader has been taken from us by hatred and bitterness. Even as I stand at this hour, I_ I cannot even allow hate to enter my heart at this time, for it was sickness, not meanness, that killed him.

People were_ some were in pandemonium, some were in shock, some were crying, hollering, "Oh, God!" And I immediately started running upstairs to where he was and I caught his head and I tried to feel his head and I asked him, I said, "Dr. King, do you hear me? Dr. King, do you hear me?" And he didn't say anything and I tried to hold his head. And by that time_

MARSHALL FRADY: While the rest of the King's aides huddled through the night at the motel, Jackson rushed back to Chicago, where rage was already sweeping the city.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: When we were going to get in the car, it was really a silence. You know, it was "Who's going to speak first?" you know, because I didn't have the words to say and he didn't know what to say. And when he came home, he got in the bed with his shoes on and the_ and the shirt and he just laid in the bed.

MARSHALL FRADY: In public Jackson had an altogether different demeanor. It was as if he could see his destiny opening up before him at last and he rushed toward it. Fourteen hours after the shooting, he appeared on the Today show. Later that day, while listening to the solemn tributes at the Chicago city council's memorial service, Jackson tapped Mayor Daley on the shoulder and asked to speak. Pointing to his shirt, Jackson said, "This blood is on the chest and hands of those who would not have welcomed King here yesterday." Then he called for calm in the city, an end to the rioting.

Meanwhile, at Jackson's directive, a movement publicist was booking interviews on Chicago T.V. shows.

DON ROSE, Former Advisor, SCLC: They were falling all over themselves to get Jesse, and particularly as the word got out later that morning that Jesse had returned to Chicago and was wearing clothes stained with Dr. King's blood and was appearing before the city council and so forth.

MARSHALL FRADY: Don Rose accompanied Jackson to the tapings, the two men riding from studio to studio in the back seat of a car.

DON ROSE: He was thinking very clearly, thinking ahead, thinking of, frankly, his own career, the future of the movement and his role within it. And we were both reinforcing each other with the view that Jesse was a very logical successor to Dr. King.

JESSE JACKSON: [April 12, 1968] When I see you here, so much alive, asking what to do, where to turn_ I am available now. I am more convinced than ever that every time that there is a crucifixion in right and righteousness, that inevitably and universally there is a resurrection.

MARSHALL FRADY: King aides, long resentful of Jackson, saw his behavior as brazen opportunism. They were already angry that he had spoken to the press in the hours after the assassination and furious that he had so dramatically inflated his own part in the story of King's final moments.

ANDREW YOUNG: A lot of those resentments that had been buried in the movement, and that allowed us to work alongside each other, but never expressed, got expressed in the emotion and frustration of Martin's assassination.

MARSHALL FRADY: Some began retailing the story of the last meeting at Ebenezer just days before the assassination. As their story went, King had exploded at Jackson, told him to go do his own thing and leave him alone. Andy Young was standing next to Jackson when the exchange took place. He remembers King's message to Jesse was much deeper than a simple rebuke.

ANDREW YOUNG: It was shocking, in the sense that he never talked to anybody like that. And the thing that happened was that Jesse tried to encourage him_ you know, "Don't worry. Everything's going to be all right." And he turned and said, "Everything is not going to be all right" and he saw the problems that we were going into not as his problem, not as Jesse's personal problem or my personal problem, but America's problem. But he felt that the only thing that could save us was us working together to try to really and truly redeem the soul of America.

MARSHALL FRADY: That angry challenge was the last substantive thing Martin Luther King said to Jesse Jackson.

ANDREW YOUNG: No, it_ and he's never forgotten it.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: I think our time stopped and it began. It ended in Memphis and it began in Memphis because we were totally dependent on Dr. King and all of a sudden, this was our_ the movement was our responsibility. The children belonged now to Reverend Jackson and it was his responsibility to feed them.

MARSHALL FRADY: In the weeks after King's assassination, people flocked to Breadbasket, came in off the street to volunteer.

HERMENE HARTMAN, Breadbasket Staff: It was like it grew overnight. Jesse was very young, very bright, very articulate. We had a new minister in town and he was not only a new minister in town, but offered a new ministry, something very different.

JESSE JACKSON: Negroes are always worrying about it. They used to call me egotistical a long time ago. Well, I still am. Negroes' problem is that they do not have their egos. That's why our churches end up having a white service, because our preacher is not arrogant enough to take God's word, so he have to go and get some white fellow's agenda and put it in his church. Our egos_ our egos ain't in the right place. You've got to get up and say, "I know how the Lord told me to structure my services." And together, we can do whatever we need to do. And you all know when I tell you all I can preach, I ain't lying.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jesse Jackson was 26 years old and it was his time. He had gathered around him a personal following of ministers, businesses, seminarians, secretaries and housewives.

RICHARD THOMAS, Breadbasket Staff: We were a huge family. Everybody belonged to everybody else. We were_ we truly loved and respected one another. It was not family here and him out here. He was in the center of it.

HERMENE HARTMAN: Oftentime on Saturdays, we would go, we would leave the meeting and maybe a dozen of us would go to the house and enjoy the wonderful cooking of his grandmother Tibby and enjoy the kids running around and being playful and active with them.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: My children were never told that they had to go to bed at a certain hour. They just mingled and sat under the table and bit people on the foot and leg, so my mother called them "products of the movement." She said, "Oh, these children, they don't go to bed. They just pass out." And she also said, "This is the darnedest house I've ever been in." She said, "It never_ it never shuts down. It just_ the people just keep changing."

MARSHALL FRADY: Among his associates and friends were two earnest young white ministers he had met at the seminary, Garry Massoni and David Wallace. Wallace had been working with Jesse since the two of them drove together from Selma in 1965. He was Jesse's first truly close white friend.

Jesse took David home to visit his family in Greenville, where the two of them, like little boys, would sometimes crawl into the bed with Jesse's grandmother.

RICHARD THOMAS: It was like two apples off the same tree. They_ they seemed to think alike about_ about the things that were taking place in the world.

HERMENE HARTMAN: It was a professional relationship. It was a personal relationship. They were brothers. They were joined_ they were joined at the hip. It was like their mission was the same mission.

JESSE JACKSON: But numerically, there are more poor whites in America than poor blacks. There an Indian Americans even poorer. Black men of integrity cannot make a deal with a politician and leave out the poor of the nation, all God's children_

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson was now expanding his ministry, campaigning for black candidates across the country, protesting police brutality, hunger, poverty, the Vietnam war.

"God broke into my room last night," he'd tell a staffer. That meant he had a new idea and they had another job. Few of his late night inspirations could hold until morning.

DON ROSE: I have had phone calls from Jesse at every conceivable hour of the day or night and a few hours that may not have been invented yet.

JOHN JOHNSON: Yeah, he calls whenever he_ whenever the spirit moves him.

DON ROSE: The 2:00 o'clock in the morning or the 4:00 o'clock in the morning call from Jesse Jackson does not begin as every other_ any other 2:00 o'clock or 4:00 o'clock in the morning, where it says, you know, "I'm sorry to wake you" or "Were you asleep?" It just_ he just starts rolling. He's rolling and you should be rolling, too.

HERMENE HARTMAN: He's of the moment and he's of the occasion. If there was something that he wanted to do, the attitude was "project first, money later."

MARSHALL FRADY: The treasurer of Breadbasket was a trim and brisk insurance executive with whom Dr. King had entrusted SCLC's money. Presented with Jackson's expense reports, Cirilo McSween was heard to say, "Call me a hearse. I think I'm going to die."

WILLIE BARROW: Cirilo used to say, "Reverend Jackson, you can't fly there. You can't take but two people." Jesse said, "What do you mean I can't take but two?" "We don't have the money." And then he and Jesse would have it.

HERMENE HARTMAN: "Jesse, ain't but one going. Pick which one." And Jesse would explain, "No, I got to have_ well, David's got to go." You know, "I_ Richard's got to go. Ben's got to go."

WILLIE BARROW: Jesse'd get on the phone and call up wherever he was going. He'd say, "I'm bringing three or four people extra. I need you to pick up the tab," and people would pick up the tab.

RICHARD THOMAS: On Thursday, if he found that we were going to have a shortfall on cash, he'd make a call to somebody and say, "I got to have some money to be able to make the payroll here," and a lot of times on Friday, I'd leave town and go somewhere and pick up a check, come back, give it to Lucille. Lucille would call a bank that wasn't open on Saturday and they'd cash the check and we'd make payroll. Most Saturdays.

MARSHALL FRADY: One of the places Jackson would go prospecting for money was Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion in downtown Chicago.

RICHARD THOMAS: St. Clair and I would ofttimes go down and play pinball while Jesse and Hefner talked. Come out smiling and I wouldn't have to go to Memphis, so I assumed he came out with a check_ wouldn't have to go to Memphis or New York or Los Angeles or something.

MARSHALL FRADY: In 1969 Hefner featured Jackson in his magazine. Jackson told Hefner's interviewer that blacks would be as non-violent as they could be and as violent as they had to be, that America's last chance for redemption might have died with King. He was trying to provoke, to wake the nation from its daze following the killings of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. His real struggle throughout the '70s would be to make himself into a comparably dramatic moral figure in a time empty of great moral drama. Absent that, Jackson had only one mirror in which to measure himself.

CALVIN MORRIS, Associate Director, Breadbasket: I've been in situations with him where Jesse would have eight, ten morning newspapers and he would rifle through the papers to see if he was in them. We would look at the evening news to see what got on and all the rest.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson began telling associates, "We need to swing somebody through as a national spokesman." Others who had been out front for Breadbasket began to recede.

CALVIN MORRIS: As the time went on, our time to do that became less and less and less. Jesse's time became more and more and more, and we had to be sure that he had all the radio time, so that his persona very much grew. It zoomed into the stratosphere.



JESSE JACKSON: _somebody!

CHILDREN: _somebody!

JESSE JACKSON: I may be uneducated_

CHILDREN: I may be uneducated_


CHILDREN: _but I am_

JESSE JACKSON: _somebody!

CHILDREN: _somebody!

JESSE JACKSON: I may have been in jail_

CHILDREN: I may have been in jail_



JESSE JACKSON: _somebody!

CHILDREN: _somebody!

JESSE JACKSON: I am black!

CHILDREN: I am black!

JESSE JACKSON: I am beautiful!

CHILDREN: I am beautiful!

JESSE JACKSON: I'm God's child!

HERMENE HARTMAN: The entertainers began to come. Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, for example, began to come. Whoever was in town began to come to those meetings.

JESSE JACKSON: Muhammad Ali, the world champion!

CALVIN MORRIS: He became a celebrity among celebrities. He was a celebrity with them. They were celebrities together.

GEORGE JONES, Former President, Joe Louis Milk: We took care of whatever bills he had. If he wanted something specific, he would call one of us on the phone and say that he needed this or he needed that and, of course, I could always talk to now the 25 or 50 other friends and get a few dollars this_ for this and for that. And then later, of course, we bought him a home and refurbished it.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson's benefactors sent his children to private school. They leased him expensive cars, provided him a wardrobe. He was a human billboard, promoter of product and style. The SCLC board didn't know what to make of him. Board members began to play on Abernathy's fear that Jackson was out to take his place as head of the organization.

JESSE JACKSON: There's a group around town called Breadbasket. If black businesses can now get on the shelves of chain stores, it's a group around town. If black folk are now building chain stores and if black folk are now building schools in Chicago, there's a group around town_

MARSHALL FRADY: Abernathy still needed Jackson. Breadbasket was the one program raising significant money for SCLC. When Abernathy thought Jackson was withholding some of that money from Atlanta, he suspended him.

JOHN JOHNSON, Chairman Johnson Publishing: I recall Reverend Jackson coming by, saying that he couldn't afford to allow him to put him on suspension. And I said, "Reverend Jackson, you shouldn't have sassed Reverend Abernathy and Reverend Abernathy shouldn't have put you on suspension. You were both right. I think the only thing you can do is to start your own organization."

JESSE JACKSON: [PUSH founding, December 18, 1971] Somebody may say, "They was on the radio this morning making a lot of noise. Who are they?" We're just People United to Save Humanity. When the Welfare clients look up and see us coming in the projects, somebody going to say, "Who are they?" They're just People United to Save Humanity. When the hungry look up and see us coming, trying to give them skills, somebody might say, "Who are they?" We're just People United to Save Humanity!

MARSHALL FRADY: Some of his old friends looked a little askance at the name of his new organization. They'd suggested the less presumptuous People United to Serve Humanity, but Jackson was beyond that now.

JESSE JACKSON: When the unorganized workers start getting their money, somebody say, "Where'd it come from?" People United to Save Humanity!

GEORGE JONES: He'd walk out on the stage and sometimes he would_ his stature and his appearance_ "I'm God. I am the man," because when he would walk out, the whole audience of 2,000 or 3,000 people would stand up and applaud and applaud. Women would walk up to me and say, "Oh! He just thrilled me today! He just did this and did that." I said, "Go home. Take a shower. You'll be all right."

MARSHALL FRADY: Rumors did become rampant of his romantic buccaneering. It was all part of the temptations of his expanding celebrity.

GEORGE JONES: We knew and we were hearing and we were seeing some things that could destroy him. And we didn't come directly and tell him not to do it, but we would talk about things that could happen in the event it should happen.

CALVIN MORRIS: Jesse was an instrument of the movement for change. I loved and him and love him now. But the movement and the person for me are different. For some people, and in Jesse's own mind, the movement and his person became one and I don't believe that. I don't believe that.

RICHARD THOMAS, Breadbasket Staff: The space between Jesse and David widened as the organization became an organization. No longer was the same contact there. I no longer had it. There were buffers.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: David_ it was difficult for him. There was a time when we could go everyplace together and during the '70s, we could no longer go everyplace together. Black people needed that time to discover themselves. They needed that time to become independent, to feel that they were somebody, they could do it themselves. And that caused a certain separation. It should not have, but it was a growing process for all of us.

MARSHALL FRADY: By 1973, Garry Massoni was gone. Calvin Morris was gone. David Wallace, who was burned out, hurt and estranged from his friend, finally left. After eight years of daily service, Jackson offered him a severance check of $9.

After Richard Thomas quit, Jesse didn't speak to him for years. whenever somebody left, Jackson regarded it as a betrayal of the movement and of himself.

HERMENE HARTMAN: Yeah, he was_ he was_ he was hurt, feeling that some people left him. They abandoned him. I think a personal, "You let me down. I didn't leave it. You left me."

ERIC EASTER, Jackson Campaign Staff: It's almost like a rock star would be, where, you know, here's this famous person, always recognized, always being approached. But I think he has a real feeling that no one really knows him and, in that sense, I mean, he is kind of lonely. I think his mind is kind of always going and that, you know_ that he is kind of alone in that process, particularly when he's dealing with an issue that no one else embraces.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: My husband shares with me the most serious things while he's putting his socks on. We had been talking about it and it wasn't until he was putting on his socks that I knew he was going to do it.

He said, "Jackie, I'm going to run for president of these United States of America," and I said, "Hot dog! Way to go, Jesse! We're going to do it!" And so we did our little pep rally, you know? "Yes! I am somebody! Yes!" You know, "Never surrender!" So "Keep hope alive!" We do that around the house.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson found himself essentially alone in this enterprise in 1984. He'd embarked on two firsts: the first black man to run for president and, more significant, the first man to run with a message animated almost entirely by Martin Luther King and the Gospels.

JESSE JACKSON: The great responsibility that we have today is to put the poor and the near poor back on front of the American agenda.

MARSHALL FRADY: The problem was a presidential campaign in America is not so much about the message as the messenger, not so much about the country's future as a man's past. And over the years Jackson had incited plenty of mistrust and dislike. The criticisms were that he had blackmailed American businesses, squandered nearly a million dollars in federal grants, that he was all charisma and no follow-through. But the criticism that hit him most deeply was that he had been too much out for himself, that he had dropped King's mission. Many saw this campaign as just another in a line of flagrant self-aggrandizements.

JESSE JACKSON: This is a dangerous mission and yet it's a necessary mission!

MARSHALL FRADY: As Jackson saw it, the campaign for the presidency was the boldest way to carry out King's last challenge. Jesse Jackson meant to bridge the racial divide in the country. He meant to redeem America and thereby redeem and fulfill himself.

JESSE JACKSON: Never turn back! Out time has come! Our time has come! Our time has come.

ROGER WILKINS, Jackson Campaign Advisor: It just outraged all kinds of white people. A black man deciding he's going to run for president? He doesn't know his place.

JESSE JACKSON: People said, "A black guy running for president?" Yeah. It reminded me just when we started talking about sitting in the front of the bus, some of the biggest arguments in the pool room. "Now, you mean you think you're going to be on that bus, that fertilizer on your clothes, and sit beside them people?" Yep!

MARSHALL FRADY: His nerve, the size of his ambition, the depth of his want had always been the genius of Jesse Jackson. He had never been about small things. But if he was seeking to close divides in the country, he already had a problem.

Many American Jews considered him an enemy of Israel. Some vehemently opposed his candidacy.

ERIC EASTER: I remember getting every day press releases from Meir Kahane's group, you know, with pictures of Jackson and Arafat hugging and there_ there seemed to be a sense that, from the very beginning, kind of a radical faction of the Jewish community was_ was because of that incident trying to kind of pull down the campaign.

MARSHALL FRADY: The hostility had begun with his support for a Palestinian homeland and Jackson only inflamed things when, in a private chat, he referred to New York as "Hymietown."

REPORTER: Have you issued a flat denial that you said anything like that?

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson's campaign was about to be capsized by a charge of his own racism: anti-Semitism. He went into a bunker mentality and began to sound less like a moral prophet and more like a politician.

JESSE JACKSON: You know, I've tried to be as_ as honest and as open about this matter as I could. I have no recollection of it. And from my point of view, it is a denial because_

MARSHALL FRADY: Jewish groups were demanding he apologize publicly, but the longer he refused and the more he was attacked, the more his support grew among blacks. An apology, his advisers said, would cost him black votes. But Jackson knew there was only one way to go from a presidential candidate for black America to a presidential candidate for all America.

JESSE JACKSON: However innocent and unintended, it was insensitive and wrong. A moral leader must be tough enough to fight, compassionate enough to cry, human enough to know error and humble enough to admit it.

ERIC EASTER: And_ and the campaign really just kind of continued on. It was very hurtful, but it continued on and actually, you know, built some more steam after that.

JESSE JACKSON: Never did I think that on this day that I would be in Columbia, Missouri, standing up on a tractor with some small white farmers who are so afraid of our government that they have to wear sacks over their heads to hide their faces.

MARSHALL FRADY: Out in the country, Jackson was picking up the first glimmerings of the coalition he had been after, "the rainbow," he called it.

ERIC EASTER: It seemed that Jackson clearly wanted to_ to expand beyond his base, that here was a way for farmers and union workers and_ and ecologists _ you know, the whole green movement _ to get in as a part of this campaign. There weren't just more votes, but it was more reach for him. So almost at every campaign stop, I mean, there was some minister somewhere, who led a large congregation, who was upset that he went to speak to a farmers' group instead of coming to his church.

JESSE JACKSON: Now, y'all, we've got to go to the church now.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson's solution: Bring the farmers to the black church.

JESSE JACKSON: We've got so much in common and so little in conflict. We must have the judgment to turn to each other and not on each other. That's our challenge.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jesse Jackson won the predominantly white town of Columbia, but over most of the country his support split down racial lines. He carried 90 percent of the black vote, but only 5 percent of the white. Still, he won a fifth of the overall primary vote and nearly 400 delegates. By sheer main effort, he put himself in the room with Walter Mondale.

JESSE JACKSON: _deal with the effect of racism and sexism at the same time.

BERT LANCE, Jackson Campaign Advisor: He and Mondale were going to have a news conference. Well, when they went to have the news conference, you would have thought that Jesse was the nominee and Mondale was a fellow who was just standing by. And Jesse just dominated it and, of course, all the Mondale folks get terribly upset and they say, "Oh, Jesse's taking control," and so forth and so on.

MARSHALL FRADY: When one of Mondale's aides convinced the campaign to give Jackson a primetime slot for his convention speech, Jackson told the aide, "Tonight you're either going to be a champ or a chump."

JESSE JACKSON: I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient. God is not finished with me yet.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson emerged from that campaign an international figure, a man on the rise. He was all over the globe now, lecturing the Vatican on apartheid in South Africa, privately negotiating for the release of the hostages held in Beirut, confronting Gorbachev on human rights. According to a 1985 poll, Americans held him in higher esteem than any figure save Ronald Reagan and the Pope.

ANDREW YOUNG: I think Jesse really wants to be president, but I admit that this is a white country and that it's not likely to happen.

MARSHALL FRADY: When he set out in 1988, Jackson simply refused to accede to the fundamental racial calculus of American politics and he refused to defer to the Democratic leadership's plan to prevent any liberal from becoming the nominee.

RICHARD HATCHER, Former Campaign Chairman: Key to their plan was creating Super Tuesday, this large number of primaries that would be held on the same day, most of them Southern primaries.

JESSE JACKSON: What's happening March 8th?

TEENAGE FANS: Super Tuesday!

JESSE JACKSON: What's happening March 8th?

TEENAGE FANS: Super Tuesday!

JESSE JACKSON: What are you going to do?


JESSE JACKSON: Who are you going to vote for?

TEENAGE FANS: Jesse Jackson!

JESSE JACKSON: Who are you going to vote for?

TEENAGE FANS: Jesse Jackson!

BOB BOROSAGE, Jackson Campaign Advisor: Super Tuesday was supposed to be Al Gore's day. He was going to sweep the South. And so much of the press was filled with either Al Gore or could Dukakis win, you know, a state in Georgia or in Florida or whatever. And Jackson was, you know, a minor sub-theme, at best.

MARSHALL FRADY: But Jackson saw something else happening. A week before Super Tuesday, he visited Selma, Alabama, and the bridge where he had seen Civil Rights marchers beaten 23 years earlier.

BOB BOROSAGE: Over the top of the crest of the bridge comes your basic Southern pick-up truck and in the Southern pick-up truck are two young white kids in white T-shirts, drinking beer_ I mean, the whole_ the whole five yards. And one of them's seated outside the passenger's compartment, looking over the hood of the car to find_ figure out why is the traffic all backed up. And he sees Jesse Jackson and he goes, "Yo, Jesse!" Right? And so we thought, "You know, something strange is happening here."

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson finally finished first or second in 13 of the 16 primaries that Tuesday. He was in a dead heat with Dukakis in the race for delegates and popular votes. Eighteen days later, he called Jackie with the biggest news of the campaign.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: He told me, "We won Michigan, Jackie." I said, "Way to go, Jesse. We're doing great, Jesse." He was exhilarated.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson didn't just beat Dukakis in Michigan, he clobbered him 2 to 1. He won nearly a quarter of the state's white vote and now led the field in popular votes and total delegates.

BOB BOROSAGE: There was a moment when we thought, "You know, we_ we just might_ is it possible we just might do this?"

BERT LANCE: There were people saying, "Oh, my goodness. Look what's about to happen. Jesse Jackson has a chance to gain the Democratic nomination. What is this going to do to my seat in Congress? What is this going to do to my race as county commissioner? What is this going to do in the mayor's race?" so forth and so on. "What are we going to do about it?"

JACQUELINE JACKSON: I_ I guess we scared the hell out of them, you know? It was kind of amusing to me because you_ as a person, you wonder, "Well, what's all_ why are they making so much of this," you know? "We're just people, I think, running like everybody else."

MARSHALL FRADY: On the road, Jackson was discovering white Wisconsin loved him. He was calling Burt Lance 10 times a day. "This is your brother. Something big is happening out here."

BOB BOROSAGE: There is no question that Jackson was feeling that he had broken through, in some ways, that he was able finally to bring a message beyond the boundaries of race, beyond the divides that keep Americans from hearing one another, that people were hearing him who had never been able to hear him before.

MARSHALL FRADY: But Jackson lost Wisconsin. And then he had to go to New York.

Mayor ED KOCH, New York City: Jews and supporters of Israel who are not Jewish would be crazy to vote for him.

MARSHALL FRADY: With Ed Koch acting as drum major, the national press made Jesse Jackson the issue. The campaign was all about character, they said_ character flaws.

ED KOCH: When he was under stress and Dr. King was assassinated, he didn't tell the truth. He said he cradled Dr. King's head in his arms, the last man to speak with him. His shirt was bloody and he wore it for two days. It wasn't truthful.

PHIL DONAHUE: But the suggestion is that, first of all, you never touched Martin Luther King either_ neither before, during or after his death.

JESSE JACKSON: Which is not true, and even as you dramatize this, which is quite diversionary_ but I can go into it. I was there when Dr. Abernathy came out of the room because he was_

BOB BOROSAGE: You know, he was giving speeches four, five, six, eight speeches a day. He'd start at 5:00 in the morning doing radio tapes and he'd go till 11:30, 12:00, 1:00 o'clock at night and then get up the next morning and keep going. And we_ and he'd been doing that since before Super Tuesday.

JESSE JACKSON: _are making hysteria. Let's keep making history. Let's keep hope alive.

BOB BOROSAGE: There's no question he was_ he wastired and he was exhausted and there was a lot of bitterness building up that he couldn't express publicly.

ROGER WILKINS: I went to be with him in New York because I knew he was going to lose and that that was going to be the end of the exhilaration.

BOB BOROSAGE: We took this long train ride to Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania primary and it felt like we were in a dark tunnel and never came out. I don't know whether the_ what the weather was like that day, but it just felt like it was black outside and we were in this dark train to nowhere.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson's campaign manager and his campaign chairman were saying it was over, there was no way he could win the nomination. But Jesse Jackson couldn't let go of it. The state coordinator wanted Jackson to spend his time in white, working-class neighborhoods and suburbs. A Philadelphia alderman was announcing events in black neighborhoods. Jackson did the only thing he knew to do. He kept moving, added an extra three or four events to his daily schedule. He was trying to be everywhere.

RICHARD HATCHER, Former Campaign Advisor: Jesse Jackson had to walk that line, wanted to walk that line, and sometimes that became especially hard. It became especially hard in New York. It became especially hard in Pennsylvania.

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson had to see it. He couldn't bridge the gap_ not this time, maybe not ever. His own supporters were fighting bitterly over what votes he should be going for.

RICHARD HATCHER: And I remember there was just a tremendous argument. This_ this alderman from Philadelphia came up to the suite and I think Reverend Jackson and I were in one of the bedrooms, talking, and we heard this tremendous nose out_ and someone cursing and, oh, it was_ it was really_ and it was obvious that Jesse Jackson was sort of caught, you know, in between these forces.

MARSHALL FRADY: He was exhausted, angry, caught in petty fights and he had to ask himself why was he doing this? What was it all for? And like a replay of the running monologues he used to have with King, Jackson answered himself.

BOB BOROSAGE: Here is the choir singing black gospel music_ "Come so far, we can't turn back now. Lord didn't bring us this far to fail us now." And you just see Jackson filled up with energy.

JESSE JACKSON: I was in McAllen, Texas, back in December. Hispanics_ a man, his wife, mother-in-law, two children sitting by the side of the road, cutting broccoli for less than $2 an hour. The children should have been in school. Child labor laws are being violated. The cameras were there. The writers were there. The law was there. They were abandoned by law. They didn't have an outdoor bathroom. They had to relieve their bodies without privacy in the open field. What do I want?

I want to be your president. I want to make America better. Want to make America better! Want to make America better! I want peace in the world! I want to make America better! I want to wipe out malnutrition! I want to raise the babies! I want to make America better!

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson's campaigns had never been about simply winning. His triumph was that, even if for a brief moment, from Michigan to Wisconsin, he had crossed over the racial divide.

JESSE JACKSON: You start talking about progress. We're three steps, Lou, from the White House. We've got to go on. Got to go on! We're almost at the top of the hill! We've got to go on!

DAVID LETTERMAN: Nice to have you with us on the show.

JESSE JACKSON: If we can get past the barrier of race and sex and see people as people and judge them by values and not reject them on race or sex, we'll become a much better and a much stronger nation.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Yeah. Yeah. You_ you know, you have a good way with words. I love listening to you talk. I'm not sure I understand everything, but man, I like listening to you talk! You have a nice, nice sense of the vocabulary.

MARSHALL FRADY: For Jackson, the years since 1988 have been a search to find a stage comparable to a presidential campaign, to find another way in which to realize those ambitions for greatness born in him back on Haynie Street in Greenville, South Carolina. Despite the extraordinary distances he had already traveled, his earliest hungers still were not satisfied.

JACQUELINE JACKSON: I am now 51. They say a woman who will tell her age will tell everything. Let me say it. Let me put it this way. I would love for him to slow down_ to slow down.

MARSHALL FRADY: If there was a riot in Los Angeles, he was there; a plant closing in Wisconsin, he was there; an earthquake in Armenia, he was there. When he got word that Nelson Mandela might be freed, he rushed off to South Africa, still searching for the big stage.

ERIC EASTER: This great historical moment was about to happen and he wanted to be a part of it. I mean, he brought his own camera crew and he brought his own biographer and that kind of thing.

ROGER WILKINS: Jesse does like to be recognized. He loves to be on television and he loves to be in the newspapers. So the search for recognition from one's fellows is_ is not unique to Jackson, but it's true, Jackson has a big hunger for it and sometimes I think it gets in the way.

CALVIN MORRIS: Jesse's always been kind of the outsider looking in and striving to get in. He is concerned that the world respect him.

MARSHALL FRADY: That lifelong eagerness to have his worth affirmed produced a vicious circle. The more he sought recognition, the more allergic the press grew toward him. The more he chased his moment, the more it seemed to flee his grasp.

It eluded him even when he pulled off what may have been the most remarkable feat of his entire career. Early in the Gulf crisis, he negotiated the release of foreign nationals held hostage by Saddam Hussein. Hussein had initially offered four hostages, but Jackson had talked the Iraqi dictator into releasing hundreds of them, effectively taking away Saddam's "human shield" against bombing attacks. And yet Jackson, even in his elation, could sense what would greet him back in the States.

JOE KLEIN: I mean, Louis Farrakhan was there and Ramsey Clark was there. Jim and Tammy Bakker could have gone there. What prevents everybody from going_ [crosstalk] Well, anybody who wants_ what prevents anybody who wants to get a little press from going over there?

JESSE JACKSON: Nothing prevents them except_

MARSHALL FRADY: Jackson watched as his triumph registered in the general notice flickeringly and tackily, at that. "That's the most terrible battle of all, against cynicism," he confided to me late one night in 1993. "I've been tempted to give in to it myself, sometimes want to go ahead and it somehow, just want to die, have it all be over with_ all the hurt, all the trying."

JESSE JACKSON: There's a different voice on every radio channel, a different voice on every television. But then there's a voice above all voices. If you tune into that frequency, no matter how low you are, it can get you up. No matter how far you're out, it can pull you in. There's power, wonder-working power, miraculous power, sea-opening power, lifting-from-the-dead power, that all-power power! There's another voice!

MARSHALL FRADY: In 1995, the year of O.J. Simpson and Newt Gingrich, fears of widening racial and economic divides obsessed the country. America, Jackson could sense, was in search of a moral leader, so he put out the call. It was movement time.

JESSE JACKSON: Hate and hostility is on the loose and so it's_ it's time to march again. We will march from Gingrich's district to Dr. King's grave site, a three-day, 30-mile march from the nightmare to the dream.

MARSHALL FRADY: The night before his march began, Jackson privately predicted a crowd of thousands_ black and white, young and old, farm, labor, environmental. But Jackson never drew more than a few hundred. His procession looked more like some ghost march from a different age.

1st SPECTATOR: What's this about, then?

2nd SPECTATOR: Who knows? I'm here buying a Jeep. Who knows?

3rd SPECTATOR: Come to McDonald's and keep hope alive!

4th SPECTATOR: What do they want?

5th SPECTATOR: They want their rights.

6th SPECTATOR: What are they saying?

7th SPECTATOR: They want a ride.

MARSHALL FRADY: Throughout Jackson's march, commentators were saying that his politics were a thing of the past, that his time was over.

JESSE JACKSON: [singing] Ain't going to let nobody turn me around_

MARSHALL FRADY: As I watched him that afternoon, I couldn't help considering this possibility. What if the urgent hunger, the ceaseless striving that had carried him so far from Haynie Street were the very things that made it so hard for people to see him as what he had most wanted to be, a moral hero for his time? But he seemed now trapped by that lifelong dream. Jesse Jackson no longer seemed to notice how few people were with him. He just kept on going.

ANNOUNCER: Visit FRONTLINE's website at for more on The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson including an in depth interview with biographer Marshall Frady and excerpts from the new biography, real audio selections from Jackson's most stirring speeches, more of the interviews with confidants and advisors and lots more at FRONTLINE online at

And now for your letters. Our program, "A Kid Kills," drew some unusual responses this time from students in the 7th grade at Forrestdale Middle School in Rumson, New Jersey. Robert Galante's 4th period studies skills class viewed the program and videotaped their thoughts for us. Here are some excerpts.

MICHELLE JOHNSON: Dear FRONTLINE: Before I watched "A Kid Kills," I was unaware of the problem and how big it was.

RYAN MATTHEWS: I really didn't have any idea what it's like in the inner city.

MICHAEL LANDRY: I didn't know that there were no jobs for these kids, that sometimes they can't even get a meal.

MICHELLE JOHNSON: I know now why those kids act the way they do. They deal with death at a young age and they have limited opportunities.

BART BRENNER: If I lived in Orchard Park, I probably would have the same culture because that's the culture I would grow up with.

RYAN MATTHEWS: I felt kind of sorry for the kids of Orchard Park for not having a clean, safe school and having their gym shut down.

MICHAEL LANDRY: Next time I see something about drugs or a murder on the news, I won't just say, "How could they do something like that? How could they break the law?" I'll say, "I wish there was some way I could help them."

MICHELLE JOHNSON: I realize now that the young residents of Orchard Park are the exact kind of people that are here in Rumson. Your viewer, Michelle Johnson.

MICHAEL LANDRY: Michael Landry.

BART BRENNER: Bart Brenner.

RYAN MATTHEWS: Ryan Matthews.

ANNOUNCER: Let us know what you think by fax [(617) 254-0243], by e-mail, [FRONTLINE at], or write to this address: Dear FRONTLINE, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, 02134.

The program, "A Kid Kills," erroneously characterized Willie Dunn. Since being released in January, 1996, Willie has had no run-ins with the law.

In two weeks: Dr. Kevorkian_ was it mercy or murder? How has Dr. Death changed the way we think?

1st FAMILY MEMBER: He was ready to die.

2nd FAMILY MEMBER: She was finally at peace.

ANNOUNCER: "The Kevorkian Verdict" next time on FRONTLINE.

JESSE JACKSON: May I be admitted?

BOYD MORRIS: No, siree, you cannot be admitted!


BOYD MORRIS: I am not going to serve you.

JESSE JACKSON: Because of my race?

BOYD MORRIS: I'm not going to serve you.

JESSE JACKSON: Because of my race?



Written by

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Additional Research

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North Carolina A&T State University
The Bettmann Archive
Black Star Publishing
Chicago Defender
Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Tribune
Greensboro News and Record
Greenville Cultural Exchange
Helen Jackson
Joe F. Jordan
Rev. Gary F. Massoni
National Archives
PUSH, Chicago
David Rees
George Robinson
Roper Mountain Science Center, Coxe Collection
Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Robert A. Sengstacke
Vivian Taylor
Joseph Louw, Life Magazine, Time Warner Inc.
Washington Star Collection, Copyright Washington Post, by permission of D.C. Public Library
James A. Wethers
AP/Wide World Photos

ABC News VideoSource
CBS News Archives
Mrs. Charles W. Fairley
Mississippi Valley Collection, University of Memphis
National Archives
NBC News Archives
Excerpts from "Free At Last" courtesy of Greg B. Shuker
WFMY- Greensboro
WGN Newsfilm, Chicago Historical Society
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A FRONTLINE coproduction
with The Lennon Documentary
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(c) 1996

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