Jesse Jackson was quoted as saying Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was “acting like he’s white” for not speaking out more forcefully about a racially charged schoolyard beating in Louisiana.
Wednesday’s (Columbia) State newspaper said Jackson made the comment about Obama and the Jena, La., case after speaking Tuesday at Benedict College, a historically black school. “If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” Jackson said in his remarks after the speech, according to the published account.
“Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment,” Jackson said. In 1965, demonstrators were attacked by police with billy clubs during a peaceful voting rights march in Selma, Ala. “Bloody Sunday” shocked the nation and helped bring attention to the voting barriers that kept blacks from the polls.
Jackson later told the newspaper he did not remember making the “acting like he’s white” comment about Obama, who is black.
On Wednesday, the civil rights activist said in a statement that he was “taken out of context.” It said he commended Obama “for speaking out and demanding fairness on this defining issue. Any attempt to dilute my support for Sen. Obama will not succeed.”
The newspaper’s deputy managing editor, Steve Brook, said the newspaper was standing by its story.
The Illinois senator, in a statement late Wednesday reacting to Jackson’s comment, said “outrage over an injustice” such as in the Jena case “isn’t a matter of black and white. It’s a matter of right and wrong.” Obama cited earlier statements in which he “demanded fairness” and said they “were carefully thought out with input and support” from one of his national campaign chairmen — Jesse Jackson Jr., a Chicago congressman and son of the elder Jackson.
Obama issued a statement last Friday, after a state appeals court threw out the only remaining conviction against one of the black teenagers accused in the December attack on a white schoolmate in Jena.
Obama said he hoped the decision would lead the prosecutor “to reconsider the excessive charges brought against all the teenagers in this case. And I hope that the judicial process will move deliberately to ensure that all of the defendants will receive a fair trial and equal justice under the law.”
On Sept. 10, the senator said: “When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it’s a tragedy. It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions. This isn’t just Jena’s problem; it’s America’s problem.”
Jena is a mostly white town where racial animosity flared about a year ago when a black student sat under a tree that was a traditional gathering place for whites. A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. Reports followed of racial fights at the school, culminating in the December attack.