Before Hurricane Irene could do any damage to what was supposed to be a unifying event on Washington, D.C.’s mall, the Rev. Jesse Jackson rained on the planned Martin Luther King Jr. celebration with a vitriolic attack on the growing Tea Party movement.
It remains to be seen whether his incendiary remarks, delivered yesterday at a luncheon in the nation’s capital honoring civil rights pioneers, politicizes an event that was supposed to take place this weekend, but has been rescheduled for some time in September or October.
Jackson likened the Tea Party’s political principles to those of state’s rights advocates during the 1960s who were enemies of the civil rights movement. “The Tea Party is not new,” said Jackson. “It’s just a new name for an old game.”
The aging civil rights leader’s remarks were untimely, Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots told USA Today. “It is unfortunate,” she said, “that an event intended to honor the memory of an American hero who gave his life to ensure the equal rights of all Americans would choose to use the moment to make false statements that detract from the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, echoed Martin’s response. The party, he told USA Today, “is actually a group that believes in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he said he wanted to see a day when people were judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”
Not all black Americans share Jackson’s contempt for the Tea Party.
Indeed, this past January, a group of black entrepreneurs, elected officials and rank-and-file Houston residents launched the nation’s first predominantly black Tea Party, said co-founder Marie Johnson, a longtime Democrat, to counteract the claim by Jackson and others that Tea Partiers are racist.
And, last month, the predominantly black South Central Los Angeles Tea Party, headed by the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, held a rally at the NAACP’s annual convention in L.A., charging the civil rights organization with “spreading lies” about racism in the Tea Party movement and promoting “black genocide” through its support of Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, the mood during the rescheduled dedication of the MLK Memorial is likely to be different a month or two from now than it would have been had it not been pushed back by the threat of Hurricane Irene.
The memorial is intended to be “an inspiration for all people, for all time,” said Harry E. Johnson, president and CEO of the MLK Memorial Foundation. But in the wake of divisive remarks by Jackson and others, many Tea Party members feel their participation in the memorial’s dedication is unwelcomed.