Our Pledge To You

News

Rev. Jesse Jackson back in the game with Hillary Clinton

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who's now backing Hillary Clinton, was to announce his endorsement Saturday at the Kids off the Block Memorial, 11618 S. Michigan Ave. Jackson and Clinton are pictured here during a visit to that memorial March 14, the day before the Illinois primary. Lynn Sweet / Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — On March 13, a Sunday, after Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wrapped up a Democratic town hall forum in Columbus, Ohio, she boarded a charter plane and headed to Chicago.

With the Illinois primary that Tuesday, Clinton had a heavy campaign schedule in Chicago the next day.

Among the passengers on the aircraft traveling from Ohio was Cleo Pendleton, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot to death near the Kenwood home of President Barack Obama and his family.

There was also Geneva Reed-Veal, whose daughter, Naperville native Sandra Bland, was found hanged in her Texas jail cell after being pulled over for a traffic stop near Houston. Bland’s death threw a spotlight on racial inequalities in the U.S. criminal justice system.

The two mothers were part of Clinton’s “mothers of the movement” group, whose sad entry to membership was the tragic loss of a child.

And in another seat on the Clinton aircraft en route to O’Hare was the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

Jackson has been an outcast during the Obama era. But with Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee, the civil rights leader is back in the game.

Jackson’s been close to Bill and Hillary for decades. It’s a complicated relationship that has endured despite its ups and downs, from Sister Souljah to welfare reform to tougher sentencing rules in the 1994 crime bill.

To put it bluntly, Jackson — the founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and two-time presidential candidate, in 1984 and 1988 — has been shunned by team Obama for years.

Jackson — who has faced his own controversies — made it easy for the Obama team to carry out its inclination to distance itself from him.

In July 2008 — when Obama was running for his first term — Jackson, while waiting for a TV segment, didn’t realize his microphone and camera were on and was caught whispering that Obama was “talking down to black people. I want to cut his nuts off.”

He apologized.

His son, then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois — at the time a national co-chair of Obama’s campaign who had high hopes he could ride the Obama wave to something bigger for himself — publicly rebuked his dad.

But the damage was done. The reverend was on the outs. And the Obama team also marginalized the congressman.

A South Sider was headed to the White House — with the path paved, to an extent by the reverend — and the Chicago father and son didn’t have a significant role in the election of the first African American president.

Time would show that the caution of team Obama had some basis. Soon after Obama was elected, Jesse Jackson Jr. was caught up in the investigation of Gov. Rod Blagojevich over the “selling” of Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Eventually, Blagojevich went to prison. And so did Jesse Jr. — for looting his campaign funds.

The Obama administration only has a few months left, and Jackson has never been part of anything.

With Hillary and former President Bill Clinton, things are very different.

Bill Clinton traveled to South Carolina last September to speak at the funeral of Rev. Jackson’s mother, Helen Burns Jackson, in the Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson endorses Hillary Clinton Saturday at the Kids Off the Block Memorial on the Far South Side. Andy Grimm / Sun-Times

The Rev. Jesse Jackson endorses Hillary Clinton Saturday at the Kids Off the Block Memorial on the Far South Side. Andy Grimm / Sun-Times

On Saturday, Jackson, who stayed neutral during the primary because his progressive politics are so close to those of Sanders, endorsed Clinton. He announced his backing at the Kids off the Block Memorial, 11618 S. Michigan Ave., which features 501 bricks shaped like small headstones. Each brick represents a youth from the community who’s been killed.

Clinton visited that memorial with Jackson, his wife and daughter on March 14, the day before the Illinois vote. Clinton spoke movingly then about the “mothers” and the scourge of gun violence.

On June 27, Clinton returns to her native Chicago to be a keynote speaker at the 50th annual Rainbow/PUSH Coalition convention at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. Clinton will appear at the International Women’s Luncheon at the convention, with African-American women the most loyal of her supporters.

The Obama team’s anger over Jackson’s “nuts” comment was understandable.

But it’s “time to move beyond that,” says Michael Eric Dyson, who’s the author of “The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America” and a former DePaul University professor.

With Obama near the end of his presidency, Dyson says, “It’s high time that Obama’s administration extends an olive branch and forgiveness to Rev. Jackson and bring him in from out of the cold.”