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Jesse Jackson and the politics of race.

Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Race.

Thomas Landess, Richard Quinn, Jameson, $17.95. Jesse Jackson was standing in the courtyard of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee at the moment Martin Luther King Jr. was felled by an assassin's bullet on the balcony upstairs. The next day Jackson stood before television cameras in Chicago, invoking King's name and wearing a shirt that he said was stained by the martyr's blood. But according to most independent accounts, Jackson was nowhere nearby when King died in the arms of his colleague, Ralph Abernathy. Witnesses say that the bloody shirt must have been a fraud.

Thomas Landess and Richard Quinn choose this sickening story to begin their account, since it embodies for them the central themes of Jackson's ensuing career: opportunism, demagoguery, and prevarication. What follows is not so much a biography as a 250-page indictment, drawing upon every charge that any critic has ever leveled against Jackson. Most of the allegations are well-supported, but the authors fail to transcend their laundry-list approach by placing Jackson in historical context or offering a convincing interpretation of his character. Halfway through the book Landess and Quinn tell us that Jackson is half the son of Martin Luther King Jr. and half the son of Elijah Muhammed, which makes him a "blood brother' to Louis Farrakhan. After this superficial character analysis, which they spend only a few paragraphs on, it's back to the compendium of crimes--from Jackson's antisemitism to the corruption at Operation PUSH.

In their attempt to prove Jackson's absolute depredation, Landess and Quinn betray their own racial insensitivity. Farrakahn, they tell us, is "the figure standing at the end of a dark alley, waiting to see if white America makes a wrong turn. He will try the doors of our houses to see if we have forgotten to turn the key in the lock.' In another purple passage they remind us that "young black America walks the streets with ears pressed against a jambox so big and heavy most whites couldn't even lift it.' Their racial stereotyping is both offensive and completely irrelevant to their topic.

It's a shame, because Jesse Jackson's career deserves closer scrutiny as he begins his second stab at the presidency. Although Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Race is full of damning tales, it's a sloppy expose that can't command enough authority to make its judgment of Jackson stick.
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Author:Weisberg, Jacob
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1986
Words:401
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