In the glistening white auditorium of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church on 16th Street, the faithful started to gather about 6:30 p.m. Amid the mix of Sunday suits, long black dresses, skyscraping tulle bonnets and blue jeans, there was a muted anxiety. They just knew that the night's speaker, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, was going to come out swinging, defending his friend and their newest hero, Andrew Young.
Ernestine Jones of Columbia, Md., sat with a friend and three children, waiting and smiling in anticipation. "I'm definitely interested in his views on Andy Young. I think the whole thing was racist," said Jones. Her friend, Rosaland Thompson, said, "Young was so shackled he can't really speak out."
Along with 800 others, they waited an hour past Jackson's schedueled arrival time, through the congregation's rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," through a solo, through a prayer. When Jackson arrived, delayed enroute from Ann Arbor, Mich., by thunderstorms, they heard a denunciation of the circumstances around Young's resignation as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations last Wednesday. But they also heard a declaration that black America was now a forceful voice in world politics.
Even before he mentioned Young, Jackson said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King, "We must talk. The sons of former slave masters and the sons and daughters of former slaves must talk. Black America must enter the new world order."
Jackson, who was expected to speak about his recent 17-day trip to South Africa, had been one of the first black leaders to criticize Young's ouster, one of the first to stand by Young's side in the hurricane of reaction, and one of the first to articulate the Jewish-black rift caused by the resignation.
"Let's discuss this right now. I'm supposed to talk about South Africa, but I'll be back to town," Jackson said.
In the rolling cadences of a Baptist minister, Jackson referred to the historic restraint of black Americans on foreign policy. "Our silence is perceived as disinterest, but tonight the oil cap has been lifted. Black America is entering world politics. . . . here to determine whether there is an enemy. Before we discuss foreign aid, let's discuss first [domestic] aid," he said. His words at this point were greeted with resounding applause and a few church-inspired "wells."
Even before Jackson mentioned Young, he discussed blacks and the Middle East and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"We could not be silent on the PLO," he said. "If I made a decision not to talk with my enemies, I couldn't go to Capitol Hill. If I made a decision not to talk with my enemies, I couldn't go to the White House, except perhaps twice in this century."
While the audience was cheering and chuckling over that statement, some raising their hands in the characteristic gesture of church members receiving the message, Jackson pointedly discussed Young. "Andy was a fall guy. Andy was undercut by State Department politics. The State Department's declaration of total unawareness of any PLO contact is deceptive. The State Department's appearance of clean hands is an illusion at best and a cover-up at worst.
"It leaves the false impression that Andy was unilateral, insensitive, head-strong and dishonest," said Jackson, who added, several times, "Andy was dealing with big stakes, he wasn't playing." Once Jackson added, "Thank God we have learned to read. We can analyze for ourselves."
On the need for a black-Jewish dialogue, Jackson said "the depth of the division" called for more "than one meeting, one press conference. There need to be very many meetings, with a lot of dealings." Like many other black leaders during the past week, Jackson said the black-Jewish coalition has become unraveled in the last 10 years because the unity of the struggle to achieve break-throughs didn't extend to upward mobility. "They were willing to share decency, but not power."
When he ended, the ushers passed the plate for donations to PUSH and Jackson rang out with his standard shout-response, "I Am Somebody." David Wigenton, a recent graduate of Holy Cross College, who was hearing Jackson speak in person for the first time, stood in the back of the auditorium.Jackson, in an electric-blue safari suit, was saying thanks to the crowd. Wigenton observed quietly, "I guess I haven't been listening to the right people speak about the struggle. It's so real with him."