On an evening when a man who had worked for bipartisan politics and social justice was being remembered, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged a new formula of economic integrity.
"Last year black America did more business with corporations than Russia, China and Japan combined," said Jackson, the president of Operation PUSH, last night at the annual dinner of the Washington branch of the NAACP. Jackson spoke for more than an hour about economic and political independence, charging "both the donkey and the elephant have limited routes."
Speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Sheraton Washington, Jackson said, "We must affirm our own course, to move from aid to trade, from charity to parity, from begging to bargaining."
The dinner honored the late Samuel Jackson, an attorney who worked on dozens of civil rights cases, including the landmark 1954 school desegregation case, and who was appointed by presidents Johnson, Nixon and Reagan to several commissions and sub-Cabinet level positions.
Last night, Edward Harper, a member of the White House policy development staff, presented Jackson's widow Judith with the President's Citizen Medal, issued posthumously to Jackson. The medal has been presented only eight times since its creation in 1969.
Jackson, Harper said, "made a real difference in the history of this nation." He had known Jackson personally, and recalled how Jackson would stop at the White House and advise him on any number of subjects. "He gave a great deal of counseling on how we could better reach out to the black community. He gave particular advice on minority business, which will be reflected in the president's forthcoming statement on minority business."
In addition to the late Washington attorney, the dinner also honored Alice T. Davis, the acting executive director of the Howard Medical Alumni Association, and the Rev. Ernest Gibson, president of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington.
During the evening several Washington gospel choirs performed. Among the guests were Jeffrey Cohen, the chairman of the National Bank of Commerce; Samuel Foggie, president of the United National Bank of Washington; Thomas Owens, president of Perpetual American Savings and Loan; Ernest Green, former assistant secretary of labor under President Carter; Mayor Marion Barry; and Thomas Johnson, the grand master of the Prince Hall Masons.
The focus on corporate America was enthusiastically embraced by Rev. Edward Hailes Sr., president of the local NAACP. But, he added, he couldn't pinpoint any Washington corporations they planned to pressure until the national NAACP's annual meeting. Rev. Jerry Moore, a D.C. City Council member and president of the local PUSH chapter, said that chapter has targeted several corporations, and "if our letters and our meetings don't work, then we will set up pickets in front of high-volume stores."
Looking at Washington, Jesse Jackson quoted statistics about the Burger King fast-food franchise. "There are 3,100 Burger Kings; blacks are 35 percent of their consumers. There are 39 black-owned franchises in the country and only one black-owned Burger King in Washington . . . We think that's corporate rape."