When Shelby Steele recently wrote about The Decline of the Civil Rights Leadership, he put his finger on a serious problem for our country. Professor Steele noted that there has been a corruption of moral authority at the top of the media-selected Civil Rights elite. He wrote this powerful paragraph:
"Put bluntly, this leadership rather easily tolerates black kids killing other black kids. But it cannot abide a white person (and Mr. Zimmerman, with his Hispanic background, was pushed into a white identity by the media over his objections) getting away with killing a black person without undermining the leadership's very reason for being."
As if to underscore Dr. Steele's points, we have the appalling understatement of Jesse Jackson in response to the random killing of a young Australian jogger in Oklahoma. Jackson tweeted: Such actions are "frowned upon."
Frowned upon? It's as if the killers forgot to send a thank-you note after a dinner party.
We shouldn't dwell upon the race of the killers; or the race of the Australian victim. Let us ask instead: Where were the fathers of those killers? Are these young men like so many directionless, bored, and increasingly violent young adults growing up without the love and discipline of their dads?
Jesse Jackson might have been a voice for fathers in this country. In his Chicago hometown, his was once seen as the First Family of black America. He could have been a powerful figure standing firm for the integrity of black families and white families, Hispanic and Asian families.
Once, Jesse Jackson was bold enough to speak the truth about abortion in the black community. "Abortion is black genocide," he said then. He was right. But soon he became entangled in Democratic Party politics. Now, he doesn't frown on abortion--even when 61 percent of pregnancies in Harlem result in the deaths of unborn children.
Perhaps the decline of our Civil Rights leadership was predictable. We are observing the fiftieth anniversary of the historic March on Washington. From the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in the South, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted everyone to know the truth about his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"I want it to be known throughout Montgomery [Alabama] and throughout the nation that we are –a Christian people…And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight, until justice runs down like water and righteousness as a mighty stream!"
Americans of many religious backgrounds could recognize in Dr. King's powerful and evocative words the echoes of the Hebrew Prophet Amos. That cry for justice enabled millions of Americans to keep their eyes on the prize. Jews and Christians came together to amplify Dr. King's call for an end to the injustice of segregation.
By seizing the leadership of the Civil Rights movement after Dr. King's brutal assassination, Jesse Jackson steered it into new and uncharted currents. We might recall-and deplore-the fact that Jesse Jackson was the first candidate for President in the Democratic Party who was openly anti-Semitic. He referred to New York City as "Hymietown."
He immediately apologized, of course, and a craven journalistic elite instantly accepted his apology. But Jesse Jackson continued to be a fellow traveler with those who made anti-Semitism their stock in trade.
He might have remembered the warning given by Winston Churchill to Nazi Party boy, "Putzi" Hanfstaengel in Munich. "Tell your Fürer for me: anti-Semitism may be a good starter, but it's a bad finisher." Hitler never agreed to meet Churchill.
But there's hardly a Mideast Jew-hater with whom Mr. Jackson has not met.
This is a tragedy for Jesse Jackson and for the country. His great gifts of oratory and leadership have been squandered. He traded in his birthright for a mess of pottage, as Scripture says.
Let us hope that Mr. Jackson will see the light. He can say, as we hope we all can say, "the Lord is not finished with me yet." Jesse Jackson can turn around. He can yet become of respected voice for Christian truth in a confused world. He is, after all, a reverend.
He speaks eloquently of his grandmother's quilt. In the telling and re-telling, that old quilt becomes like Joseph's Coat of Many Colors.
None of the patches was big enough to cover us by itself. All the patches needed all the other patches to keep us warm.
Rev. Jackson tells this story to urge liberals to unite, to ward off the night's cold. But it applies to our stricken country, as well. That grandmother's quilt is evidence of an old woman's love and her care for her family. Become a voice for families, Jesse Jackson, and you can restore the moral authority you once had.