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Playboy Interview: Jesse Jackson
  • October 13, 2011 : 20:10
  • comments

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 cultural suffocation and improper education.

Playboy: Malcolm X once proposed that the UN send observers into the American black community to determine if blacks were being treated humanely. Do you think that's a practical idea?

Jackson: Only for symbolic purposes; the UN doesn't have any power and is subject to the American veto.

Playboy: Wouldn't exercising the veto prove so embarrassing to the U.S. that it would refrain from doing so?

Jackson: I doubt it. And the countries that one might expect to pressure America into dealing humanely with its black minority -- the countries of Africa -- are themselves too dependent on America's trade and financial aid to wish to antagonize her. It is not in the enlightened self-interest of those countries to rise up in indignation when we're shot up in Detroit or Watts, because we don't affect their essential relationship with the world markets or the World Bank.

Playboy: Both Malcolm and Dr. King worked to mobilize a worldwide conscience against racism before they were struck down. Do you share the view of some that both murders were part of a plan to deprive blacks of their leaders?

Jackson: Not a single elaborate conspiracy, but it's clear that as we have moved closer to America's nerve center, closer to a position where we could vote men out of office, the killings have increased. And I don't think America has done anything to indicate that she is on the side of Dr. King rather than of his killers.

Playboy: You used the plural. Don't you think that James Earl Ray acted alone?

Jackson: I would be surprised if it wasn't a conspiracy involving many others.

Playboy: Do you have any evidence to support that belief?

Jackson: I think the circumstances were very suspicious. As you know, I was with Dr. King when the assassin's bullet was fired. We were talking with Operation Breadbasket's music director, Ben Branch, about songs for the next day's rally. Dr. Abernathy, Andy Young, James Bevel and Bernard Lee were very near. When Dr. King was shot, I hit the ground, along with the others. We scrambled toward the steps where he was and I looked back over my shoulder, because I was afraid that more shots were going to be fired. I saw so many police coming from the direction of the shot that I actually threw up my hands, thinking that the shot had come from one of them and that I was going to be killed, too. There were hundreds of police in the area, some jumping from the hill where the shot had come from. I tried to tell them that the bullet came from that way.

Now, the hotel that Ray was in -- if Ray was the killer -- is next door to the fire department. With the shot having been fired and all those police in the area, the usual thing during an emergency in a Southern town would be for a siren to go off that stops the lights and traffic on Main Street, where the hotel is. It was six o'clock in the afternoon, the busiest time for traffic, and it all could have been brought to a halt. But no siren went off, traffic wasn't stopped and Ray escaped through downtown Memphis. The distance he subsequently traveled indicates to me that he didn't do it by himself and that he may have had some very highly placed help. But, of course, finding Dr. King's killers is secondary to getting at the roots of America's violent atmosphere -- an atmosphere in which you conform or are broken, in which you take your subordinate place in the industrial hierarchy or are destroyed.

Playboy: What do you think Dr. King would be doing if he were alive today?

Jackson: Dr. King would still be dealing with the problem of finding a job for everybody; he would still be raising the questions of medical care for everybody, of a full-employment economy. He would still be on the basic issues, still be pointing out the stupidity of the war. He would be in general conflict with Nixon. He would still, as we say, be on the case.

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