This interview was originally published in the November 1969 issue of Playboy magazine.
*Editor's Note: *Every Monday we ask Playboy's Facebook followers to vote on which Playboy Interview to pull from the archives and post online the following Friday. Follow Playboy on Facebook and tell us which interview you want to see next.
"A providential way of seeing our slavery is that we are missionaries sent from Africa by God to save the human race. We are the only group in the world with the power to redirect the destiny of America."
"Whether we are called Operation Breadbasket or Panthers or niggers, we know who the enemy is. We'll gain freedom by being more willing to die for it than the slavemaster is to die to keep us enslaved.
"False racial pride has divided the lower class. We should define ourselves by our economic position and shift the fight from a confrontation of poor black vs. poor white to one of have and have not."
In the 19 months since the murder of Martin Luther King, only one man has emerged as a likely heir to the slain leader's pre-eminent position in the civil rights movement: Jesse Louis Jackson, the 27-year-old economic director of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Reverend Jackson's first national exposure, in fact, came as a result of his closeness to Dr. King. He was talking to King on the porch of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when the fatal shot was fired and cradled the dying man in his arms.The very next day, at a Chicago City Council meeting, Mayor Richard Daley read a eulogy that pledged a "commitment to the goals for which Dr. King stood." The Reverend Jackson had flown in from Memphis without sleep to attend the ceremony; he stood up in a sweater stained with Dr. King's blood and shouted to the assembled Chicago political establishment, "His blood is on the hands of you who would not have welcomed him here yesterday."
That gesture demonstrated both the militant indignation and the dramatic flair that mark Jackson's charismatic style. The New York Times has written that he "sounds a little like the late Reverend Martin Luther King and a little like a Black Panther." It added that "almost everyone who has seen Mr. Jackson in operation acknowledges that he is probably the most persuasive black leader on the national scene."
Jackson's personality is possibly even more in tune with the present black mood than Dr. King's was, because, as Richard Levine pointed out in Harper's, "Dr. King was middle-class Atlanta, but Jesse Jackson was born in poverty in Greenville, South Carolina." Jackson calls himself a "country preacher," but he combines his down-home style with a sharp intellect. He attended the University of Illinois for one year but dropped out in 1960 to attend the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro, where the first black sit-in had taken place earlier that year. He was an honor student, quarterbacked the football team and organized civil rights demonstrations. After graduation, Jackson went north to study at the Chicago Theological Seminary, where he devoted most of his extracurricular time to local civil rights work.
It was Dr. King himself who originally spotted Jackson's leadership potential during a massive civil rights drive in Chicago in the summer of 1966 and appointed him to head all of SCLC's economic projects in the North. In the three years since that appointment, Jackson has concentrated most of his efforts on the Chicago-based project called Operation Breadbasket and made that pilot program the most impressive demonstration of black economic and political power in the United States. Breadbasket's organizational methods are now being applied under Jackson's guidance in 15 cities ranging from Los Angeles to Brooklyn.
The project's primary goals are to create jobs for blacks and to encourage them to own and operate businesses. Boycotting, or the threat of it, is Breadbasket's most potent weapon. The effectiveness of this technique was most evident in a breakthrough victory over the huge Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, which operates 40 stores in Chicago's black ghetto. To avoid the financial loss that a boycott would have caused, the A & P signed a pact guaranteeing jobs for blacks and the distribution of black products on A & P shelves. As Business Week reported in a story about Operation Breadbasket, "Nationally, the organization's efforts have resulted in about 5000 jobs and $40 million in annual salaries to Negroes. But the Chicago campaign (against A & P) represents Breadbasket's most significant victory, for it is the biggest settlement with a chain in a single city, and set a precedent for other food-chain negotiations across the country."
The A & P pact was especially significant because -- in addition to a guarantee of over 700 jobs for blacks and marketing more black businessmen's products -- the company also agreed to use black-owned janitorial and exterminating companies in its ghetto stores, to bank in black-owned banks, to advertise in black media and to have black construction firms build its ghetto stores. Monthly meetings between representatives of A & P and Breadbasket are designed to assure that the company is not shirking. On the personal level, sensitivity seminars attended by A & P executives attempt to awaken management to the existence and effects of prejudice. Similar agreements have been signed with more than half of all the major food distributors in the ghetto.
The Reverend Jackson created an even more far-reaching program last spring, when he initiated the Illinois Hunger Campaign. Believing that hunger is the one issue that could unite the black and white poor, Jackson led a caravan to all of the poverty areas of Illinois, ending with demonstrations at the state capitol in Springfield. The pressure this exerted on the Illinois legislature was so great that a planned cut of $125 million in welfare funds was restored at a time when New York and California were making sizable cuts in their welfare payments. An impassioned appeal by Jackson, from the steps of the capitol building, inspired a bill to provide school lunches for all of the needy children in the state. Jackson also extracted a promise from the state legislature to prevail on Washington for special surplus-food allotments for the poor. The Illinois Hunger Campaign was conceived by Jackson as an extension of the Poor Peoples' Campaign begun by Dr. King, and there are plans for similar efforts in other states next year.
No matter what his other commitments may be, Jackson always attends the Saturday-morning meeting of Operation Breadbasket. The location has been changed three times this year, because the congregation continually outgrows its premises, and Breadbasket presently resides in a 6000-seat movie theater on Chicago's South Side. The lobby of the theater is filled with tables displaying black merchandise, and the auditorium itself is hung with signs that exhort the gathering to Buy Black Products and Use Black Services. The first hour of the meeting is devoted to gospel music by the Operation Breadbasket orchestra and choir, interspersed with the business for the week -- either boycotts or special "buy-ins." Playboy's Associate Articles Editor, Arthur Kretchmer, who conducted this interview with Jackson, describes the remainder of a recent meeting.
"After Breadbasket's projects were out of the way, a frail old lady, whose face was ravaged by time and much else, was given the stage. In a quiet voice, and with great dignity, she briefly described the humiliation she had suffered during an interview with a welfare worker the previous week. Then she said she had come to the meeting to gain the strength that would enable her to block her door in the future. 'They can starve me', she said, 'but I'll die before they come back with their damn forms and their damn questions.' With that, she slowly raised her fist in the black-power salute and the audience gave her the most sympathetic ovation I've ever heard.
"Then Jackson was introduced -- and greeted by 10 minutes of standing, clapping, stamping love. He is a big man with an imperial manner. The head is leonine and the facial expression at once fierce and sullen. He was dressed, like a Mod black emperor, in a brilliantly colored dashiki, bell-bottom jeans and high-top country shoes. Biologist Desmond Morris has written that a leader never scrabbles, twitches, fidgets or falters, and Jackson qualifies. For over an hour, he delivered a passionate sermon that described the black man's plight in white society. It was filled with street talk, down-home slang and quotations from the Bible -- but its effect was Greek tragedy with soul.
"The sermon was punctuated by piano and organ riffs similar to a rhythm section's backing of a good jazz soloist. Halfway into an eloquent plea that blacks not waste their energy fighting among themselves, he called on one of the choir members, Sister Theresa, to sing I Can See the Promised Land, because 'I need it,' he said. At one point in the sermon, he paused, clearly exhausted, and turned to the audience to say, 'Yes, I'm tired.' An old woman's voice called out, 'Take care of him, Lord. We need him too bad for You to let him die.'
"Everyone around Jackson is acutely aware of his poor health. He has suffered this year from traces of sickle-cell anemia and assorted viruses brought on by lowered resistance. He's been hospitalized a half-dozen times but never missed a Saturday at Breadbasket. It is common for a parishioner to greet him with, 'Hello, Reverend Jesse. Are you taking your medicine?'
'After Jackson finished the service, the Operation Breadbasket orchestra played a dozen choruses of a syncopated, soulful We Shall Overcome, while all 6000 people in the audience -- a number of whom were white -- stood holding hands and swaying back and forth in one of the oldest, most moving rituals of the civil rights struggle. The effect of the morning was catharsis and rejuvenation. I don't think anyone who entered the theater that morning could have left without shedding some of the despair that seems to be afflicting the black liberation movement.
"A few moments later, I had a completely different, but indelible, impression of Jackson's impact. I was waiting to see him in a small dressing room. He was resting in an armchair, talking to a very pretty, shy black girl of about 20 who was standing near him. She said to him, with some embarrassment, 'Reverend, I just want to tell you how much you mean to all of us.' He slowly raised his head and said, 'Hell, that's just a lot of talk. If I was really important to you, you'd take pity on my old tired body and invite me home, so your momma could fix a fine meal for me.' She was immediately flustered and said, 'Oh, Reverend. You're just having fun with me. You don't mean it. You wouldn't come to my house.' He looked at her with a stern expression that he couldn't quite prevent from turning to a smile and said, 'You tell your momma I'm coming over Thursday night. Tell her to do some fixin'.' She looked at him, trying to tell if he were serious, and her eyes widened, her hands began to fuss and her jaw dropped open. Finally, she said, 'Would you really? Would you really come? If you do, I'll charge my friends admission at the door. A half a dollar to see you and a dollar to touch you!' Jackson looked at the girl and then at me, laughing his appreciation. Actually, on those rare occasions when he's in the city, Jackson is well taken care of by his beautiful 25-year-old wife, Jacqueline -- and harassed by his three energetic children."
Because of Jackson's heavy schedule, Kretchmer couldn't get enough time with him until both took refuge in a rural retreat where the "country preacher" was free to explore at length the militant new mood of the black struggle and his own role in it. Since Dr. King's death had seemed for many to signal the end of the nonviolent phase of the civil rights movement -- a philosophy Jackson continues to champion -- the interview began with that topic.
Playboy: Though the mood of blacks has changed markedly since the death of Martin Luther King, are you still committed, as Dr. King was, to nonviolence as the only way to win racial justice?
Jackson: We will be as nonviolent as we can be and as violent as we must be. We should not choose violence first, because it is an inhumane way of dealing with problems. We also do not have the military resources to deal with the American power structure. There's no sense in facing tanks with a .22 pistol. Our circumstances and terrain would not give us the freedom to use a violent strategy. The ghettos are built like a military stockade. America never needs to actually come in. The lights can be turned off, the water shut off and the food supply stopped. We could be eliminated in the ghetto without anyone even crossing the railroad tracks to get us.
Playboy: Do you mean to imply that if you did have the military resources, you would wage war against white Americans?
Jackson: I am just pointing out that there is a strong pragmatic case for nonviolence. I am philosophically committed to nonviolence because I think it is the creative alternative and should be used as long as it helps protect and sustain life. It is a creative alternative to the Pentagon, for example. Just as there are forces in this world with a design for killing, so must there be forces with a design for healing.
Playboy: Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver, among others, say that unless blacks create their own design for killing, they are going to be killed themselves. Is this an irrevocable split in the black movement?
Jackson: No. The competition to nonviolence does not come from Stokely or Eldridge; it comes from America's traditions. It comes from little children seeing cowboys solve their moral problems by killing. The competition to nonviolence comes from the military draft, with its nine weeks' training on how to kill. The trouble is that nonviolence is so often defined as refusal to fight, and that is the American definition of cowardice. In fact, marching unarmed against the guns and dogs of the police requires more courage than does aggression. The perverted idea of manhood coming from the barrel of a gun is what keeps people from understanding nonviolence.
Playboy: If your life were endangered, could you use a gun?
Jackson: Yes. Nonviolence does not demand that one develop an absolute, universal commitment to pacifism. That old notion of being in a dark alley and having a man step out with a gun does not apply. Of course, I am going to do whatever I must to get rid of the man and his gun. I preach nonviolence because it's the better alternative. In that alley, there is no alternative. But peace is the alternative to war, and nonviolence should be seen as the antidote to violence, not simply as its opposite. Nonviolence is more concerned with saving life than with saving face. It is the most sensible way to combat white society's military oppression of blacks.
Playboy: Do you think white America is actually waging war on black America?
Jackson: Yes, it's a war. Sometimes it's waged by a white army in full military gear, as any weapons count among special riot police would show. But it's also a war of attrition, a siege, in which the violence takes other forms. To me, violence is starving a child or maintaining a mother on insufficient welfare. Violence is going to school 12 years and getting five years' worth of education. Violence is 30 million hungry in the most abundant nation on earth. White America must understand that men will steal before they starve, that if there is a choice of a man's living or dying, he will choose to live, even if it means other men die. These are human reactions, and we cannot assume that black people are going to be anything less than human.
Playboy: Is there a point at which you feel violence would be justified?
Jackson: If I saw that there was no other way for us to be liberated, yes.
Playboy: For many white people, the most disturbing incident of potential black violence this year was portrayed by a news picture of armed students at Cornell. What do you think about their use of weapons?
Jackson: They didn't use them, except in the symbolic sense of warning groups that had threatened them that they were capable of their own military defense. I have doubts about the enduring success of the technique of military defense, but I appreciate the feelings that brought such a desperate mood into existence.
Playboy: Another group that has endorsed violence as a tactic is the Black Panthers, which J. Edgar Hoover has called "the greatest threat among the black extremist groups to the internal security of the United States." Do you support the Panthers?
Jackson: I'm very sympathetic to the Panthers. They are the logical result of the white man's brutalization of blacks. The remarkable thing about them is that they have not conducted any military offenses. They have not gone to downtown America to shoot up white-owned stores. The Panthers are a defense for justice, just as the Ku Klux Klan is an offense for injustice. That's a qualitative difference between picking up a gun to keep from being brutalized and picking up a gun to inflict brutality. As far as Mr. Hoover's opinion goes, I don't think that his perspective is relevant when it comes to the problems that are facing this society -- which is surprising, when you consider all the good information he gets. He certainly knows what I'm thinking about and talking about most of the time.
Playboy: Does the FBI keep you under surveillance?
Jackson: Yes. It's admitted tapping Dr. King's phone, and I used to speak with him at least twice a week. The persons he spoke with were also frequently tapped, and I don't imagine they've untapped me, as my activities have increased since his death. But anything they've heard me say, if they come around, I'll be glad to repeat out loud to them. I want to add that I consider Mr. Hoover himself to be one of the greatest threats to our national security. His wire tapping and other surveillance methods violate the principles of democracy. The FBI director doesn't account to anyone, not even to the Attorney General; and, in reality, he heads what is very nearly a secret police.
It's on this subject of abusive police power that the Panthers are profound. No white community in America has a majority of black police, but black communities are militarily occupied by white police. The Panthers are right to say that the white police should be gotten out, just as the Americans were right in saying, "Get the Redcoats out." We are saying, "Get the bluecoats out."
Playboy: Aren't you really saying, "Get the white bluecoats out"?
Jackson: No. We don't want white bluecoats, but we don't want black bluecoats, either. We don't want to be policed by a supreme white authority, even if the agents of the authority are black. We're saying that the black community should police itself; the authority for the police should come from the home area, not from city hall, which is alien to us, has never been sympathetic to us and openly supports the police who oppress us.
Playboy: Do you think, as some radicals seem to, that America is a police state?
Jackson: For black men, it is. Nobody in the black community who's had the experience of being made to spread-eagle over a car for no reason, or because of a simple traffic ticket, would disagree with that. Some black folks disagree, but that's because of their lack of experience. If they just keep on living, they'll confront the reality soon enough. The reality is tyranny, and the tyrant must be opposed. Whether we are called Operation Breadbasket or Black Panthers or niggers, we know who the enemy is. We will gain our freedom by being more willing to die for it than the slavemaster is to die to keep us enslaved.
Playboy: Do you agree with the controversial Panther demand that all black prisoners be released from prison?
Jackson: Yes, but there are probably some black men who have been so broken, whose lives have been so twisted that they would be dangerous to all other men, both black and white, and I suppose they should not be released from confinement, though I would hope that genuine rehabilitation would replace detention. But just as the black community is a colony of white America, and those of us within that colony should be liberated, so should those of us who have been especially victimized by the viciousness of the colonial rules, and tried by the white slavemaster, be released. All of the black community should be liberated, and that includes those behind steel bars as well as those behind economic and social bars.
Playboy: The subject of black crime preoccupies white America and, in the opinion of some commentators, helped elect Richard Nixon President. Many whites feel that their fears of black crime are completely justified, particularly in the light of your previous statement that black prisoners should be freed. How would you respond to that?
Jackson: The Crime Commission appointed by Lyndon Johnson showed that most black crime is against blacks. The white folks who exploit us are as safe as a baby in a womb. The black man's hostility comes from the deprivation and frustration well; and those who don't, take it out on the nearest target -- other blacks.Another reason black men hurt other black men is that the punishment is less than when you hurt a white man. The price for hostility against whites is too high. To talk back to a white boss is to be fired. And to make violent gestures against white people is to invite instant death. So the hostility that is bred in the ghetto leads to suffering -- but mostly by blacks, not whites.
Playboy: The incidence of property crimes by blacks is very high and is increasing. Do you think the white middle class is wrong to be concerned about protecting its possessions?
Jackson: That property usually belongs to blacks, not whites. It is the ghetto resident whose home is robbed, sometimes two or three times in the same month. Black crimes against property are the result of desperation. I said earlier that a man will steal before he starves. Black crime is crime because of need; whites commit crimes of greed. Black folks do not set up elaborate kidnappings for a million-dollar ransom. The financial value of all of the property crimes committed by blacks in one year doesn't equal the money lost in the famous salad-oil swindle. Blacks are not out for a big score; they are out to stay alive. And when he's caught, the black man can't afford bail and a good attorney. Already wounded and probably crippled by the system, he spends more time than whites inside the jail system, where he is further destroyed by it. His criminality is molded by the police state. I was especially aware of this in the South, where I grew up. The police were the law. They could do anything they wanted, because the judges and the legal system were thoroughly racist.
Playboy: Do you have any recollections of personal confrontations with the police when you were young?
Jackson: I remember that they seemed to get a kick out of breaking down the front door if you didn't answer quickly enough. When I was a little kid, we'd run and hide under the house at the sight of a police car. Later on, they locked us up for things like vagrancy or cursing. In time, they would kill a few of the guys I grew up with, and it was always "in the line of duty." There were some humorous incidents, too. One cop in Greenville, South Carolina became famous for locking up a black man for "reckless eyeballing"; he had been staring at a white woman about 100 feet away. And I remember we weren't allowed to stand around the store windows while they were changing clothes on the white store dummies. My Northern friends get a big kick out of that, but it's symbolic of the awesome pattern of Southern oppression.
My own most frightening experience, though, didn't involve a policeman. There was a store on our street run by a white man named Jack. The customers were all black, and it was a comfortable place. Jack used to play with us kids all the time, and we'd run errands for him. One day, I went in and the store was full of people, but I was in a big hurry, the kind of hurry a six-year-old is always in. I said, "Jack, I'm late. Take care of me." He didn't hear me, so I whistled at him. He wheeled around and snatched a .45 pistol from a shelf with one hand and kneeled down to grab my arm in his other fist. Then he put the pistol against my head and, kneading my black arm in his white fingers, said, "Goddamn it! Don't you ever whistle at me again, you hear?" I didn't think he was really going to shoot me, even then; the thing that got to me was that none of the black people in the store did or said anything. My impression of the superpower of whites to do absolutely anything they want and get away with it right in the middle of blacks was a traumatic experience that I've never recovered from.
Playboy: Are such experiences for blacks still part of the Southern heritage?
Jackson: Yes, but less frequently, and I think Dr. King is the reason for the change. The significance of his movement can be seen only against a Southern background. He taught us that even if the police -- the law -- say you can't sit down, sit down anyway. In most communities until then, there weren't five men who had that kind of courage. He challenged us to stand up to the police we used to run from. In Montgomery, Alabama, the cradle of the Confederacy, he rose up and declared that black men deserve their full rights of manhood. There wasn't enough money to buy him, and there weren't enough jails to hold crucifixion leads to resurrection.
Playboy: One of the seeming ironies of the civil rights movement is that while the Southern black has gone far toward winning freedom, the ghetto black in the North is in an increasingly frustrated mood. How do you explain this?
Jackson: The Southern movement fulfilled some of the hopes it raised. We achieved our goals in the bus boycotts and the freedom rides. The public-accommodation and voting-rights bills were passed. We haven't had corresponding success in the North. The Northern black has seen some progress, but his advancement doesn't compare with the advancement of white society. The economy quadruples while blacks creep along with unemployment as high as 35 and 40 percent in some black communities. When the white unemployment rate was 20 percent in 1933, it was a Depression that required massive aid. But the black unemployment rate is ignored.
The most frustrated are those who have worked hardest but remain unrewarded. A black man in Chicago with a master's degree earns less than a white man with a high school diploma. You can't tell a man who has been to college that he's not educated enough to qualify for a job that goes to white high school dropouts. If you do, you castrate him. And the Northern black is more frustrated because the indifference of white colonialism in the North is more vicious than the paternalism of the South. The Northern industrialist doesn't have any emotional relationship with the black; he maintains only economic contact. In the North, you get white smiles while the shops are open, but the hypocritical charade is over when the shops close and whites take the money out of the ghetto. It's no coincidence that those stores are the primary targets in a riot.
Playboy: Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty once stated on television that he thought riots were caused by the mass media. He said that blacks rioted in imitation of the disruptive behavior they saw on television and that if there had been no television coverage of Watts during the first hours of the trouble there in 1965, there would have been no riot. Do you feel that's true?
Jackson: That's absurd. The riots are expressions of the unheard. The rioters are the mass of black people who invest hard labor on nasty chores -- they are floor cleaners, shoeshine boys, hospital attendants -- and they find that they have almost no share, no investment, no dividend in a $900 billion economy. Riots are a reaction to pain and a sense of hopelessness. There are black people whom no President's program has ever reached. My grandmother has lived through every President from 1900 to 1969, and the sum total of their grass-roots programs has not been able to teach her the 26 letters of the alphabet. Riots do not solve problems, but they indicate what those problems are. It is the responsibility of an aching man to tell the truth about his pain. It isn't to his advantage to give the appearance of happiness when he is hurting. In the past, we passively accepted the immoral acts of white society to prove that we were nice, decent folks, but that was our foolishness. Black folks assumed that Pharaoh was going to help them simply because it was the right thing to do. Now we know that Pharaoh's commitment is to property, not to persons. He must be made to do the right thing.
Playboy: It has been alleged by some observers, however, that the riots reveal a kind of death wish on the part of blacks.
Jackson: It's true that there is in the young generation an inclination toward nihilism. To challenge a police headquarters with a handful of bricks is a suicidal act, but it is also a blow for freedom. What the riots really reveal is the beastliness and sadism of white police. Nearly all of the people who died in riots were blacks killed by whites whose ethics dictate that nickels and dimes are more important than flesh and blood.
Playboy: There are whites who say that activists such as yourself foster the riots, that without you, there'd be racial peace.
Jackson: White folks don't want peace; they want quiet. The price you pay for peace is justice. Until there is justice, there will be no peace or quiet.
Playboy: At the time of Dr. King's death, many blacks said that white America had lost its last chance to solve the race problem without destroying itself. Do you think that's true?
Jackson: No, I don't, although I was one of the first people to make that statement. It seemed to me then that Dr. King's death ended America's last chance to be redeemed. But it is not for us to determine the chances of redemption. There are still people being born with hope, still people fighting with hope. God has not yet damned this country, though one may wonder how long the wicked will prosper. America at this point is the most violent nation in the world.
Playboy: Isn't that a cliché? Don't other nations have wars and assassinations?
Jackson: Of course. But no other nation wants so clearly to be the world's policeman. No other nation comes down so consistently on the wrong side of every revolutionary movement for liberation from tyranny. Wherever there is a rebellion, our conservative industrialists are helping to end it, whether it's in Angola or Venezuela. Any place we buy oil or rubber, or sell a little Coca-Cola and chewing gum, we've got to protect the old order. We spend $900 per second to kill the Viet Cong but only $77 per person per year to feed the hungry at home. We maintain soldiers in 20 countries around the world, yet we always talk about the Russian threat or the Chinese threat. China does not have a standing army outside of China: Russia has two. Yet we assume that someone's after us, that the "free world" is threatened simply because people want the chance to control their own economic market so they can participate in the world decision-making order. They don't want to go Communist or to crush democracy; they just want to end their serf status; and that's all blacks want here at home.
Playboy: It might seem incongruous to some that you can make this sweeping indictment of America, an indictment that could easily serve as the lead paragraph in one of SDS' revolutionary pamphlets, and yet, as economic director of SCLC and leader of Operation Breadbasket, you are leading blacks who clearly want to buy into the American dream.
Jackson: It's very simple. For all its faults, America is the only country with the capacity to save the world, even at the very moment that we seem bent on destroying it. We can produce more food, medicine, trained and educated people than anyone else. We try to export our killers, but people have stopped wanting them; they would accept our doctors, scientists and creators, but our armies are outdated. We could liberate nations from their poverty and their pestilence if our value system would allow us to do so. The irony is how close we are to being something great. One fifth of our nation is starving, yet we have the capacity to overfeed it. We could end the starvation in India, heal the sickness in Africa. But the tragedy is that we are as close to destroying the world as we are to saving it. We spent $78.4 billion to kill this year but only $12 billion to heal. Those who are silent now, or are neutral now, must make a decision before the opportunity passes forever.
Playboy: Are you encouraged by the young white radicals who seem determined to change America's value system?
Jackson: The issues that move them are qualitatively different from the ones that concern blacks. Many of the radical whites say that materialism is no good, that one must seek a new level of spiritualism. Well, we lived for years with spiritualism but without any materialism. Now we'd like to try to balance the two. Many of the young whites are living on the prerogatives of the materialism they shun. They confront their school in the winter, but in the summer, they go off to Sweden or Hawaii. Their discussions of America's corruption take place over steaks. They spend $5000 a year to attend the schools they shut down. We often have the same moral ideals, but the perspective is very different.
I have also been disappointed that we were unable to get any mass help from young whites on the hunger caravan we recently concluded in Illinois. The students were so radical that feeding starving people didn't constitute revolution to them, because "a man needs to do more than eat." But while they were saying that, they were eating very well. To us, they tend to be superfluous.
Playboy: Weren't the strikes at both Harvard and Columbia concerned mainly with accusations by white students that those schools abuse the black community?
Jackson: I do not mean to condemn their creative protests. They accurately reflect Jesus' position that man cannot live by bread alone. They come from houses with boats and cars and more money than they can spend, yet they find their lives empty. There is beauty in their hearing the heartbeats of other humans. What I'm saying is that there is a lack of depth in their protest, in terms of the black community's real and immediate needs. But I think I must reserve judgment on those whites who are living off the prerogatives of wealth. If they are legitimately concerned, they will take what Daddy leaves and pay back some of that money in reparations to blacks.
Playboy: Do you agree with James Forman's proposal that the churches pay reparations to blacks?
Jackson: Yes, and eventually the demands will not be limited to the churches. The black community in America is an underdeveloped nation, a victim of America's cold war against her own black people. In that war, all of our supply lines been the victims of an unjust war and are due reparations from those who launched it. Business owes us reparations, first for enslaving us, then for refusing to give us work or hiring us for only the lowest-paying, most grueling jobs. And even when we have an opportunity to do the same work as white men, we are paid less for it. The labor unions, for whom we fought, owe us reparations for locking us out. The church is also liable, because it has disregarded its own moral imperatives and cooperated in creating and maintaining a racist society.
Playboy: Do you expect these demands to be met?
Jackson: For the most part, no.
Playboy: Then isn't the plea for reparations a rhetorical gesture rather than a serious proposal?
Jackson: The demands are perfectly serious. If they were met, it would mean a great step toward unifying the two separate and unequal societies that the Kerner Commission described after it studied the Newark and Detroit riots. The point is that SCLC and I are not naive enough to think that the businessmen who control the assets of corporations, labor unions and churches will voluntarily act from some inner moral impetus. America's god is money. God is your ultimate concern, what you give maximum sacrifice for, what you will die for. God is what you worship. The American ideal is maximum profit and minimum person; there is no impulse to share the wealth, to raise up those less fortunate. What counts is the name on the front of the building. Well, I say what counts are the hands that do the work inside.
Playboy: Isn't money also one of Operation Breadbasket's major concerns?
Jackson: Yes. It's a concern because it's a reality. But the essential purpose of Operation Breadbasket is to have blacks control the basic resources of their community. We want to control the banks, the trades, the building construction and the education of our children. This desire on our part is a defensive strategy evolved in order to stop whites from controlling our community and removing the profits and income that belong to black people. Our programs are dictated by the private-enterprise economy in which we find ourselves. In my heart, however, I know that the entire system is a corruption. To me, the earth belongs to everybody; it's just a very successful rumor white folks have going that the earth belongs to them. The earth is the Lord's and no man creates anything that didn't come from other things that God put here. No man really takes anything away, either. No man can claim that he made soil or wool or milk. White folks can make airplanes, but they can't make mountains. They can make syrup but not water. Genesis says that the Lord created the earth and everything therein and gave man, not white man, dominion over it and created a dominion sufficient for everyone to be able to survive and prosper. Now the concept of Genesis has obviously been destroyed, and it is our concern to rid America of some of her arrogance and control of God's resources by saying that the food belongs to all the people.
Playboy: Do you think farmers and suppliers should give their food away?
Jackson: I don't care how the people get food, as long as they get it. The government can buy the food and give it away in a large-scale version of the present inadequate surplus-food and food-stamp programs. Or it can give the poor enough money to buy the food themselves.
Playboy: Many middle-class whites think that the poor would only buy booze and guns if they had the money.
Jackson: I challenge anyone with that belief to tour the reeking, rat-infested tenements of Harlem or Chicago's South Side and count the number of alcoholic welfare mothers. There won't be many. Welfare people do not account for this nation's high number of alcoholics. Nor are most guns bought by the black poor. In a home where the children are eating wall plaster because they are hungry, a gun isn't looked upon as an important commodity. But I don't care if the government wants to give out food instead of money. I would bless any device it might come up with, as long as it does something. The country is producing more food than it needs. There is inherent evil in a system that induces men to plow crops under while others starve.
Not only does the food belong to the people but the industrial profit also belongs to the people. If the employees of General Motors left tomorrow, it would have to stop. If the entire board of directors died tomorrow, nothing would stop. What's indispensable are the laborers, not the directors. The they are the basic need, they ought to reap the basic benefits. But in America, about six percent of the people control the basic wealth, and there's something infinitely demonic about that. It's no wonder that America needs the largest military in the world to protect the wealthiest super-rich class from people who would rebel against it. There's no basic conflict among the peoples of the world; Russian bus drivers aren't mad at American bus drivers. But the controlling groups are always in conflict with the people -- whether it's the government of the United States, which refuses to adequately protect the poor, or the boards of directors at GM and Ford, which encourage blacks to go into debt to buy automobiles but don't allow blacks to participate in the profitable manufacture and distribution of cars.
Playboy: Can blacks afford to buy automobile agencies?
Jackson: The companies will lend us the money to buy cars, which leads to profits for them only. They could lend us the money to buy agencies, but they won't, because that would let us profit also.
Playboy: Aren't there some black car dealers?
Jackson: About 14 dealerships out of 28,000. We are grossly underrepresented in all areas of the economy. There are no black TV stations, for example, and only seven black radio stations. Most of the stations that are beamed toward the black community and play black music are white owned. We can't get FCC outlets, and I'm convinced that there is a conspiracy to keep us from communicating with one another on a mass scale.
Playboy: Do you mean that the government fears a nationally directed riot?
Jackson: I don't know what they think; all I know is we can't get licenses when we apply.
Playboy: What does Operation Breadbasket intend to do about this sort of economic underrepresentation?
Jackson: We have the power, nonviolently, just by controlling our appetites, to determine the direction of the American economy. If black people in 30 cities said simultaneously, "General Motors, you will not sell cars in the black community unless you guarantee us a franchise here next year and help us finance it," GM would have no choice. We can affect their margin of profit by withdrawing our patronage and resisting the system instead of enduring it.
Playboy: Can this really work? And, if so, why hasn't it been done already?
Jackson: It hasn't been done because we weren't sophisticated enough to see it. This is a step that we haven't been ready to take. But it will certainly be done now, because we are organizing to do it. Black people purchase about 35 to 40 billion dollars' worth of goods each year. We represent the margin of profit in many industries. America depends on our cooperation with her economy, and we shall become the enemies of those businesses and industries that work against our interest by unfair hiring practices, by discriminating against black products, by not making investments in the ghetto to correspond with the profits taken out of it. There is an analogous situation in politics: The black people have not yet realized that we can determine who gets elected President; in 1960, it was the South Side of Chicago that turned in the vote that made John Kennedy President. The newspapers all said that Mayor Daley had once again come through with his Cook County machine, but that vote was black. The ghetto, however, has seldom voted in its own self-interest. It has even voted for black politicians who are contemptuous of blacks.
Playboy: Why does the ghetto vote so inefficiently?
Jackson: Because it's so easy to intimidate or con the poor; they have no recourse. On Election Day, the precinct worker comes around and says that if you don't vote his way, he'll have you thrown out of the housing project or he'll have your welfare check canceled. Or, if he's a benign type, he'll buy your vote with a chicken. The poor are also frightened out of coming to freedom meetings. But the poor themselves must learn that food is a right and not a privilege. We are marching to gain a subsidy for 30 million hungry Americans who represent a human resource that is more important than any of the mineral resources that this nation subsidizes.
Playboy: What form would that subsidy take?
Jackson: A guaranteed annual income based upon the government's own estimate of the amount of money people actually need to live adequate lives. They say that a family of four in a large city in the United States in 1969 requires $5994 per year for minimum maintenance. If that's what's needed, then that's what they should get.
Playboy: Wouldn't that be expensive, especially considering the present high tax burden?
Jackson: The Senate committee on poverty headed by George McGovern stated, after doing field research throughout the nation, that it would cost $10 billion per year to feed the poor and fulfill their basic health, clothing and housing needs. I would guess that that's a low estimate. Let's double it and say that the cost would be $20 billion per year. That's less money than we're spending to kill the Viet Cong. It's less money than we're about to spend on the ABM system. It is less than a third of the defense budget. If we wanted men to live as much as we want to see them die, we could do it without any new taxes.
Playboy: But what motivation does the government have to subsidize the poor?
Jackson: Out of a spirit of humanity, one would hope; but that is naive. Our job is to create enough pressure to force the government to act. It is certainly not going to do so on its own. The imbalance of Southern power in the Congress has led to important committees being headed by pathological killers and by men with public commitments to racism. These men -- such as Mendel Rivers, Russell Long, Jamie Whitten and Richard Russell -- are the black man's burden. The truth is that the Mafia is probably better represented in the government than blacks are. And numerous other special-interest groups are well taken care of. The situation on the agriculture committees is particularly loathsome to me because of the millions of dollars that are given away to gentleman farmers who don't farm, while children are starving. Contrast that with the Black Panthers' national breakfast program. They are serving thousands of people free food every week, and the only qualification is that the recipient be hungry. If the Panthers can serve breakfast to 3,000 children a week in Chicago or 1,500 in San Francisco, with their lack of resources, what could those cities' governments be doing if they had the same interest?
Playboy: If you were the mayor of a major American city, what would you do?
Jackson: I would declare the poor communities in a state of emergency and deal with the unemployment rate, the high mortality rate and the high t.b. rate. I would set up medicine tents on the streets, and embarrass the federal and state governments into opening up their food storehouses. I would declare war on disease and hunger. I would enlarge all the city departments that feed and heal people. The welfare of all the people would be attended to before any new golf courses or monuments or stadiums were built. I would force the government to call out the National Guard to deal with the existing injustices, which make the ghetto a permanent disaster area. There's no reason why the Army couldn't be coming down the street with bayonets, looking for slum landlords. The Army would force trade unions to allow the minority groups in. And those who did not pick up the garbage would themselves be soldiers because it would be engaged in a relevant war.
Playboy: Is that statement a reference to Vietnam?
Jackson: Let me just say that Vietnam is not a relevant war. It is a war in which the black poor are paying with their lives to protect the investments of a small, rich elite whose Asian investments are threatened by Hanoi.
Playboy: Whatever interests are being served in Vietnam, do you think that you, as a citizen, have the right to pick the wars in which you will fight and those in which you won't?
Jackson: Of course I have that right. I must reserve the right to decide which wars are just. And I would not fight in a war that I thought was unjust. Nor would I approve of anyone else doing so.
Playboy: Would you encourage drafted blacks to refuse to go to Vietnam, even if it means jail for them?
Jackson: Yes. And whites, too. Fighting in Vietnam is a step back into slavery for blacks, and into barbarism for whites. The road to jail has often been the road to freedom. Many men -- Gandhi, Jomo Kenyatta, Dr. King -- have learned that.
Playboy: Although a disproportionate number of blacks have died in Vietnam, there have been few blacks active in the peace movement. Why?
Jackson: To blacks, the peace movement is a luxury that presupposes you have the time to save somebody aside from yourself. Blacks are just too occupied with their own survival. They have not even been sophisticated enough to know that they can oppose murder. A black man can be easily seduced; it's a revolution for him to go from one meal a day to three. Sometimes I think that blacks are so locked away from information that we could be duped into fighting in South Africa for apartheid, if America told us to do it. We certainly were down there shooting our Dominican brothers. I saw televised scenes of Dominicans lined up against a wall while black GIs held guns on them. But this is not because of ignorance but because of cultu