Within minutes of entering his small hotel room, Jesse Jackson gazes into the mirror. He shoots a sidelong glance at the bandito mustache, the smooth high cheekbones, their prominence exaggerated by thick sideburns, the raised halo of Afro that makes him look very much like Reggie Jackson, the baseball player, to whom he is not related but with whom he shares a friendship heightened in part by the amusing coincidence of resemblance.
He stretches his neck to straighten his tie, his face unlined as it gazes serently back at him, his three-piece suit unrumpled, his mood unruffled.
And yet, it has been an exhausting day: the school board meeting, the church breakfast, the speeches to announce the opening of the Operation PUSH Washington lobbying and retaining bureau.And always - always - the line of patient ladies queuing to get kissed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson who, aside from being a natural leader - a spectacular orator in the Martin Luther King Jr. tradition from which he sprang - has one other gift.
Rev. Jesse Jackson uses his looks with unconscious skill of a professional beauty.
"I've gotten used to my looks." The voice is low, almost hoarse after a day of loud exhortation; the smile amused rather than bashful. "I mean I've had them all my life. Why do you ask?"
He is reminded of the patient ladies.
"Well, they do that for preachers every Sunday. There is a high-recognition factor for anyone in authority."
But there is no doubt, none at all, about who fosters this high-recognition factor. On wellwishers, strangers, old friends and reporters Jesse Jackson bestows the concentrated, devoted and deeply flattering attention of the Southern belle on a new conquest. There isn't a PUSH organizer who goes uncomplimented by him, nor a name unremembered, nor a school board member unthanked. It's as if he, and he alone, had fully plumbed your hidden potential, clocked the hours worked, and was now forever in your debt.
Even the Florence Crittendon contingent listening to his words at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church hears the resounding, "Some of you are pregnant. Don't hold your head down. That's the only way a child can be born . . . All children are legitimate because God legitimated life."
Jesse Jackson who was born out of wedlock 36 years ago in Greenville, S.C., did not have the luxury of a slow maturation. He grew up an activist, since those were activist times; a Martin Luther King Jr. lieutenant, since those were King times. After King's murder, there were those who predicted he would also grow up a King-surrogate - the lone, charismatic champion of civil rights.
"Jesse," says an acquaintance who wants anonymity to avoid open friction, "Jesse has a particular style which essentially boils down to the fact that he should be No. 1 leader.
"He used to have a Kingdom Theory. His opinion was that the black community wasn't organized enough. And it ought to be organized into a kingdom. Naturally, the question was - Who's going to be King?"
Well, says a Jackson spokesman, that Kingdom theory was simply a theory of organization that could be applicable to a block, a community - whatever. So there could be several kings.
But in the most literal sense that was in fact the question: Who would be King's successor now that King was dead? And the answer was - everyone. Vernon Jordan, Julian Bond, Ralph Abernathy have all had to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with Jackson the fragments of power.
"I'm not worried about myself," Jesse Jackson once told an old reporter, who also remembers him saying, in effect, "Whateever happens to anyone else, I'm just going to go on up."
The former reporter also says, "Jesse realized he had this talent to mold himself into what people want at a particular time. Jesse has always been good at packaging himself. Which is why is wasn't surprised at this new conservatism of his. He used to sound more radical. But he realised the civil rights movement has played itself out."
And so Jesse Jackson ahs grown up a pragmatist. Puritan Ethic
"WE WANT MONEY. JUST LIKE OTHER FOLKS, WE WANT MONEY."
Out of the early civil rights demonstrations, out of Selma, out of jail and out of necessity, Jesse Jackson comes now before us to talk of discipline. In January (after watching Jackson on CBS' "60 Minutes") HEW Secretary Joe Califano announced that two government grants totaling $45,000 were going to be given to push PUSH for excellence along. In January, too, Jesse Jackson addressed an enchanted Republican National Committee.
At the 19th Street Baptist Church, Jesse Jackson talked about dressing neatly, about getting businesses back into the city, about getting preachers to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] parents to pick up their children's report cards.
Close your eyes, and you realize you are listening to an eloquent rendition of the puritan ethic. That is essentially Jesse Jackson's message, and that is the essential Jesse Jackson.
"I have been bred," he says simply, "into accepting responsibility. And part of the price of that is accepting responsibility for my person, my family and my race."
And what about MY race?"
Jesse Jackson smiles. "That's my race," he replies without a moment's hesitation. "The human race. In my Father's house there is but one race." Conservative Convert
On one pinkie he wears a pretty square of ivory from Africa. Admire it, and you get no pleased acknowledgment of the compliment. You get an apology.
"There was a time when I used to love wearing diamond pinkie rings, you know," he says gravely. "But there was this contradiction. Here we were fighting exploitation in South Africa, and there I was wearing diamonds.
"So I had to develop the strength to resist it. Part of the movement's tactics is to make you come to grips with this kind of thing. So I wear this ring now because it's not offensive."
Jesse Jackson also used to wear bright dashikis and a bigger Afro. These days he dresses like a mildly hip Midwestern banker. These days he looks and acts most conservative. There's a reason for this. He is. And he is caught between his desire to look very, very good and his fear of frivolity.
Finally he smiles at his own gravity. "I'm going on like this, it's because there's a struggle for people now to break with their need for trappings. We get too serious about things we don't need.
"Many people," he sums up, and you know as he says it that he's said it many times before, "Many people buy what they want and beg for what they need." Amen, Brother
BUT - GUESS WHAT? THE VICTIM IS RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING UP! TO PUT IT ANOTHER MISTER MASTER NEVER GETS TIRED OF BEING MASTER . . .
I MEAN I NEVER HEARD OF A RETIRED SLAVEMASTER. SAY AMEN. THAT WASN'T ENOUGH. SAY AMEN.
And at the 19th Street Baptist Church, the emissaries from the gas a company, the people from the Rhines funeral home, the council members and the Minority Contractors Association - they all say, "Amen." And they laugh, as they say it. Pushing for a Platform
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is known for his loud-soft delivery, his rhythic rhymes, his fluid chants. "Down with dope, up with hope." That sort of thing.
Jesse Jackson says, "I developed a style of communicating that allows me to communicate with a maximum amount of impact, given oftentimes the minimum amount of time. I mean you've got to express it in 30 seconds on TV . . ."
And that's what Jesse Jackson is often criticized for - for demanding publicity, for being too conscious of the media.
"I think Jesse would certainly save the world if it was in his power to do so," says a longtime acquaintance who does not wish to be named, "As long as he could get the credit for it and be on the front page of The New York Times."
"It puts me on the defensive when people say that," Jesse Jackson responds. "No, I'm not blaming you. It's just that oftentimes white people have less to say and with less effort have platforms that allow them to be heard. But for leaders who are black to be heard, they have to constantly demand the right to be heard . . . because oftentimes we have a story to tell that nobody's interested in."
Simultaneously, he lifts his head and leans back on the bed. "But I've been around, you know, long enough to know what's news." Giants of an Age
He's been around long enough to know exactly how to respond to the press - until the questions get personal.
Then he grows abstracted, his mood tentative and withdrawn until his words finally revert to the shelter of rhetoric. Jesse Jackson, all resonant declaratives before a large audience, seems discomfited by anything less. Alone in his hotel room, he transforms his origins into an object lesson.
"I've never been poor," he corrects mildly. "We just didn't have any money. My father was a bellhop who shined shoes and then became a janitor. My mother was a domestic who became a cosmetologist. But we never preceived ourselves as poor. We would never CONCEDE to poverty.
"I guess I took my first bath in a bathtub when I was around 12. We just had cold water and you had to hea it up. Except at that time, you know, everybody was like that. But no one was allowed to develop a complex about the ghetto. In fact I didn't hear the word "gheto" until I was a senior in college. We didn't call it the ghetto. We call it our neighborhood or community."
He does not smile. "You understand that I've always developed a tension, a tension in my own mind about the place I'm assigned to and the place I deserve to be. That's why I resist the press calling me a black leader. You don't hear them calling Carter a white leader. I'm a MORAL leader who happens to be black."
That's why he became a jock - a quarterback at North Carolina A & T. "Yes, indeed, I played football all four years. I decided that rather than sitting around and looking pitiful and begging in the streets I was going [to get a scholarship] to go to college."
And that is why he joined the civil rights movement early on - when he was still in college.
By the time he was a second-year student at Chicago Theological Seminary he had marched on Selma with Dr. King, been involved in sit-ins as an undergraduate, been president of his student government, and married a ladey named Jacqueline Brown when she was all of 18 and he was 22.
Along the way he had also given up his ambition to become a lawyer - and then his determination to finish divinity school.
"Dr. King once said jokingly that I could learn more thelogy with him in six months than I could by finishing up at the seminary," says Jesse Jackson. "I've never regretted it. Each year my life has become, you know, more complicated by intense involvement in the struggle. I worked on the economic development aspects of the movement.
"And that's still my specialty - the economic development.
And he also says, with a mild, wry smile. "I grew up in some good company. Flyod McKissick, Whitney Young and Dr. King. I grew up with some of the giants of an age."
But he makes it sound much more harmonious than it was. After the death of King, the civil rights movement suffered grievous schisms - and Jesse Jackson found himself a major fctor in the split with Ralph Abernathy at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. he knows why.
"I think," he explains carefully, for he claims that he and Abernathy have since resumed their friendship, "I think there were forces outside us both that were pressuring [Abernathy] to limit me . . .
"As I continued to grow and his crtics continued to grow, many people who purported to be his friends kept trying to connect his demise with my relative success . . ."
He looks up, his face impassive. "I was speaking to youth around the nation. Young people were responding in masse. I was on the cover of Time magazine at 27 years of age. And there I was, just a staff member in the organization.
"And that made a lot of people take potshots at me. And it made it absolutely impossible for us to operate as a team."
Yes, Jesse Jackson is a man who inspires crowds, press coverage - and jealousy . . .
"I didn't say Abernathy was jealous of me," he objects anxiously. "I didn't say that."
He is reassured that he didn't say that; he pauses, considers. "I think tht the extent to which some people want something other people may have - that's the basis of jealousy.
"And there are othe people who may want some gift God has endowed me with. But the absence of my gift does not constitute somebody else's.I work well with most people because I'm anxious or jumpy.I accept other people's gifts." See No Rivals
He does more. He embroiders on gifts, extols them loudly and then ascribes them to those who may or may not have them. People are congratulated on their attendance at functions at which he speaks. The print reporter is endowed with a future on TV.
Following Jesse Jackson around all day is a lesson in how to gain cooperation simply by assuming it has already been extended, how to assuage rivalry immply by functioning as though none exists.
"Does the rascal have an entourage?" inquires a school board member before Jackson arrives to speak before the assembled.
A day later that same member will say, "I call everyone a rascal. It doesn't mean anything. Jackson is very sincere. He believes in what he's doing . . ." Speak No Insults
There are ministers at the school board meeting who are invited largely because of Jesse jackson's plan to include their assistane in his plan to improve the education of children. But one of the board members speaks up to complain vehemently about the lack of involvement of many ministers in the community.
This does not sit too well with the ministers present who start whispering among themlseves.
"I think," says Jesse jackson with utmost delicacy and a completely blank expression. "I think we've got be to careful when we talk not to insult each other." Just a Capitalist
The revolution - if there ever was a revolution - has undergone the face-lift of revisionism: the sharp lines of its rhetoric tucked in, the protruding grandeur of its goals pared down. All this, to conform, to win acceptance. To do the practicable, Jesse Jackson who is on the road 50 percent of the time pushing PUSH (his wife, his five kids generally are in Chicao) says this: "I no longer feel the burden and the responsibility to change this system by myself. There are a lot of other forces working to change, to alter this system . . .
"It's not my total responsibility to talk about making welfare more humane. You know we say, "Make it more humane," but there are nearly four whites on welfare to every one black. You know it's sort of a matter of how much responsibility to I assume to change the whole world?
"I'm just a capitalist," he sums up, emphasizing the singular, "I'm just a man. I'm just an organization."
He talks about the civil rights era, thinks back on it awhile. Finally, Jesse Jackson says:
"My distinguishing characteristic is that I have survived."