RUN JESSE RUN!
In 1983, across the country there was a thunderous outcry, “Run, Jesse, Run.” It was as nothing that had ever happened before. It seemed that every person of African Ancestry, also a significant number of Euroethnics and other nationalities were involved in this pervasive urging Jesse Jackson to run for the presidency of the United States of America. They were young and old, of every class, every profession, every political persuasion, all screaming, “Run Jesse Run!”
In September, Jesse asked Assemblyman Al Vann and I to convene Black leadership to help him decide if he should run. (Remember that in 1989, Dr. Gardener Taylor had called Al Vann and I to convene Black leadership to help David Dinkins become Mayor of New York City. It was held at the House of the Lord Church. Now that I’m thinking, it is probably where Dr. Taylor got the idea. The Jackson meeting was so successful I surmise that Dr. Taylor got the idea to duplicate what we did in 1983. We could contribute substantially to the Dinkins campaign.) We issued the call across the city. The response was overwhelming. The church was packed, wall to wall with people.
Jesse and I had a long relationship going back to the sixties. We were active in Operation BreadBasket(OBB). OBB was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brainchild. He observed how we had made social progress. We had legal mobility. The legal wall of segregation had been demolished. But our economic situation had not changed very much, if at all. So Dr. King’s brilliant minds came up with the idea of pulling corporate America into the fight for racial justice. His idea was to organize ministers who would approach the presidents of corporations or businesses. Only preachers or ministers would be in a delegation that would approach only the presidents of said corporations or businesses.
Research would be done beforehand determining to what extent had the corporation or businesses responded to the black communities. After doing our research, we included a demand for jobs, job mobility or advancement, or public relations, banking, philanthropic, service ie; legal contracts, etc., black publications(newspapers, magazines, etc) In addition space both on the shelves of the corporations and space outside for street vendors where they could peddle their products without harassment from the police.
We would then have a meeting, to gather information from the corporations, regarding the extent to which they have been involved in the black community or our executive director would get the information. In any event, we would compare what they are doing with what our research revealed. Then we would make our demands. If they comply, immediately we would engage in a productive relationship. If they resist, we would first call for a boycott of those corporations. If they continued to resist then we would put people on the street or in front of their businesses. Eventually, they would come around to seeing things our way. We were not about sustaining any kind of hostile relationship. We tried to convince the businesses that it was a mutual benefit for them to comply immediately or at some point the quicker the better.
One of the most interesting development in our confrontation with a recalcitrant business in Brooklyn. The President Will Levin came alone to Bethany Baptist Church to meet with the ministers. He and I got into a verbal fight. The meeting was over and we had settled our demands, he said to me on the way out, “I’d like to have lunch with you some time.” I responded “ okay, I’ll await your call.” And to my disbelief he called. We started having lunch until his death several months ago. We would go to lunch at least once a month or no later than 3 month intervals. He was president of Martin’s department store and became the President of Independence Bank. The first Jewish President. Across the years our friendship deepened. Let me say that we were of mutual value to each other. On Thursday, September 29,2022 the Prospect Park Alliance sponsored a gala. They gave awards, one was given to the family of Wilbur A. Levin at the gala. My wife, Dr. Karen and I and our daughter Sharon were invited to the event. We were honored to be invited and to sustain the relationship with the Levin family.
The deceased, the Reverend Dr. William Jones, Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church was the chairperson. (See the chapter on Dr. Jones in my forthcoming book - The Passing of Giants of the Human Spirit) Reverend Dr. John Scott was the Executive Director. Reverend Scott just celebrated his 50th anniversary pastoring St. John Baptist Church and I was Executive Vice Chairman. Reverend Jesse Jackson was the National Director. He was appointed by Dr. King.
One of the implacable corporations was A&P. At the time A&P was one of the most successful national food companies. They refused to comply with our demands. Even after Rev. Jackson came in on occasions and pickets on the street in front of their stores, still, resistance. We took over their headquarters at the Gray Bar Building on 42nd Street & 3rd Ave.We spent the night and was arrested in the morning. Jesse himself came to town and get arrested. But still, resistance from A&P. I led a prayer vigil and prayed that judgment would come upon the food chain.Eventually, as we can see it has gone bankrupt or is gone out of business completely.
So, when the ministers gathered at the church, Jesse in his imitable phraseology spoke to the massive crowd and said, “ We all hear across the country, Run Jesse Run, Run Jesse Run. I don’t want Run Jesse Run to become See Jesse Run. So I’ll need three things: money, masses, and machinery (a structure/system). Now if ya’ll can get these three things for me or help me get them I will run.” “We will help you, we will raise money, mobilize the masses and put together a structure.”
Afterwards, Jesse did something unique. We went upstairs in the sanctuary and held a press conference. Jesse said, “I want to do this press conference with all of you here as an education of how the press interprets what we say and what we do.” The press, appeared everywhere in the church. The ministers that were participating in the press conference last in front of the pulpit with a row of ministers standing behind them. The press did their work, not only on the floor of the sanctuary, but also on the balcony. Jesse did his usual masterful handling of the press. As they say, “they didn’t put a glove on him”, they tried with all their might, but no success.
Now, once the meeting was over. It was time for Al Vann and I to go to work. To build on the momentum that we created from the gathering at the church. Al Vann was elected/appointed New York State Chairperson for the campaign. Together we crisscrossed New York. And as often as Jesse would come to New York we were there by his side. I was asked to be on the National Campaign Committee and special assistant and confidant. Without a doubt, Jesse ran a phenomenal campaign, we won but we lost. We have created a definition of our campaigns, that said, “We are winning and have already won” particularly those in the campaign is what we wanted people to see is that surely the big prize was the White House, but there were other things that we won. We won a political consciousness that lasts till today and will probably last until the end of time.We won political involvement, people decided to run for office from the lowest political ladder to the highest. They even contemplated running for President. In fact, President Barack Obama can thank the Jackson campaign for helping him get to the White House. And the person who was the CEO of the 2008 Democratic Convention was my daughter, Reverend Leah Daughtry, who was a part of the Jackson campaign. She along with another daughter, Sharon, were Jackson’s campaign coordinators while at Dartmouth College.
Not only did the masses involve themselves in the campaign, but also involved in electoral politics. But there was involvement at every social level. Particularly people of African Ancestry were on the move and we are still reaping the benefit of that unforgettable campaign. We ended at the National Convention in San Francisco. Jesse made a historic speech.
We lost the election but we made significant gains. Yes, we lost the election, but again we won a change in the Democratic Party, for instance the selection of delegates to the National Convention. And other rules in the Democratic Party were made as a result of the Jackson campaign. Assemblyman Al Vann worked hard during the campaign. His influence was deep and wide. He helped to mobilize the masses as I have stated from which we are still reaping the benefit.