Interview with Jesse Jackson

OK, you were telling me a story about you, Dorothy Tillman and others going to see Mayor Byrne. REV.


You never, no, I'm sorry. Right after Jane Byrne was, was elected, the aldermen who had gone the independent route and supported her who had, won, felt that they should have access to see her immediately. Her first meeting was with George Dunn and the forces that we had defeated. They felt very insecure and had a meeting in my office. In that meeting, it was Harold Washington, in that meeting was, was Nancy Jefferson and, and the combination of us we said, let's get an appointment with her. Well since I had endorsed her publicly to the Saturday before and she had gone downtown saying I was a significant leader, whatever that meant, ah, I called her and was able to get through. But when we met with her there was a sense that that was not the traditional hostility, ah, but not the sense of partnership, the sense of parity, the sense of mutuality. And Harold Washington said, we're going to have trouble with this administration. We must really keep, keep pressing forward. Because she, she ran an administration that was not polarizing and was not hostile and ugly, it was very difficult to get a grip on it. Ah, but one day, ah, Jane, Dorothy Tillman and Marion Stamps, Lu Palmer, went to a Chicago Housing Authority meeting where you have this tremendous number of African American, Hispanics and poor people live, poor people living, but no real power on the Chicago Housing Authority Board and they were arrested. And, ah, I went to help get them out of jail and as well as some other people. But I had become exhausted with what to do to really get people's attention to galvanize them. So I did this weekly radio show and on this Sunday morning, someone called and said, well Jesse, why don't you guys just walk off her coronation. Now the ChicagoFest really was just her coronation, her pretense for running for re-election. I wanted to say, But brother, you don't understand. Organizing a boycott against the ChicagoFest with all of the money involved and the big artists coming and the high expectation, people coming from all around the country to ChicagoFest, I couldn't say he was wrong but I could not, I mean I, I could not tell him, you don't understand. I said, I'll get back to you next week. So, I called Lu Palmer. I called Reverend Evans, see, we need to consider this boycott. He said, Well, you know, it's hard to do. We can't say no because it's rational. So, by that Wednesday, about 50 odd groups came together, Joe Gardner, a lot of people came together many of whom had not been together for a long time. We decided we were going to give each other a chance. There was a sense of redemption in that meeting. A sense of, let's give each other a chance. No matter what side of the spectrum, in the machine, out the machine, let's try it. And that Saturday morning at PUSH, we announced ChicagoFest boycott. We then began to call the artists, people like Odetta, say, I will not cross your picket line. Stevie Wonder said, I will not, I will not cross the picket line. When these big artists said they would not cross the picket line that gave it added momentum. We then had ten days of picketing in front of ChicagoFest and really ten days of mass media access and education because they measured each day whether or not the boycott was successful. Well that gave us a sense of focus and we then said, But, let's take this to the next conclusion. Ed Gardner, of Soft Sheen Products, financed a voter registration drive and Lu Palmer had been arguing the case, We'll see in '83, we'll see in '83. And of the people who, ah, considered for running, it was just a sense that Harold Washington was the best. Harold had been in the machine but he had become an independent Democrat. So, he knew forces on both sides. He had a sense of it's internal mechanism. He had a sense of independence thus he had credibility that made him a bridge builder, so to speak. Harold said, You know I really don't want to run. I'm in Congress now. I finally have something I really want to do. And he had become a good congressman rather quickly because he had the background as a legislator. He said, I'll tell you what. If you really want me to run, ah, register 50 thousand new voters and raise 200 thousand dollars, that was his way of saying, I don't have to run. Well, because the spirit was high, ah, we rai--we registered nearly 400 thousand voters, raised nearly a half million dollars. Harold could not say no and thus out of that context the Harold Washington candidacy was born. So it was the protest at the Chicago Housing Authority, it was the ChicagoFest boycott, it was the mass education, it was the voter registration and Harold said, I have three demands, one, there must be one candidate, maximum unity in the base community, the African American community. He said, but we can't stop there, there must be coalition. Reach out to the Hispanic community, to labor and to progressive Whites because Chicago is a coalition city. We must find common ground across these lines of, of race, region, religion and ward. And thus that coalition was in fact the force that, that prevailed.