The ice pick-thin woman in noisy stiletto heels click, click, clicks across the polished floor of the Fox News building, the ministry of information for the American Right.
She is wearing skin-tight jeans.
Stylish or starving, it is hard to tell from down the hall on this hot July night in New York City. As she approaches the tall black man who has just entered the lobby, a smile of recognition spreads across her perfectly geometric face. Even in the heart of conservative country, people get excited when he appears in their midst.
"Ann Coulter," she says, extending her hand to the former college quarterback and two-time presidential candidate. "It's so nice to see you in person."
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson smiles back at the liberal-bashing conservative pundit and says it's nice to see her too. Then the brief moment of detente is over and Coulter clickety clicks away.
Jackson watches her push through the glass doors and out into the steamy Manhattan street, his thumbs hooked in the vest pockets of his three-piece suit like Abe Lincoln contemplating his next move against the Confederacy.
"She sure doesn't dress like a conservative," he says, arching his eyebrow and stepping into the elevator that whisks him to the last appointment of this typical 15-hour day far from home, a TV appearance on "Hannity & Colmes."
"The Reverend," as even his children call him, turns 64 next Saturday. But age has not sated his wanderlust or his relentless quest for justice and somebodiness. He works as hard as ever on a few hours' sleep to keep hope alive and the airline industry in the black.
His mailing address is a large old house in the Jackson Park Highlands neighborhood on the South Side, but the place where he does most of his living is the sky. As one aide put it, "The Reverend takes planes like other people take taxi cabs."
Though he stays on the move and often shows up at events in the news, the media spotlight doesn't follow him across the world stage as it did when he was a civil rights leader in the 1960s and '70s and during his two ground-breaking, party-shaking presidential campaigns in the '80s.
Even so, "He is still the preeminent leader in black America," says Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a civil- and legal-rights advocacy group based in New York City. "He still has stature and charisma and enough of an organization to have impact. He still goes to the plant gate. He still goes to Appalachia. He still consistently articulates a liberal message."
Jackson helped clear the way for a new generation of black politicians with vastly different backgrounds and styles from his own. They are the children of relative privilege, products of integrated neighborhoods, schools and even families, graduates of the best universities. They are people like U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and The Reverend's own son, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who jokes that he held one press conference on Monday while his dad held 15. When these newcomers give a rousing speech, the news media take notice. When Jackson Sr. does, what else is new?
Daniels says he told the elder Jackson recently, "You peaked too soon." His response, Daniels says, was: "I'm not peaking. I'm pacing myself."
Despite his often fiery rhetoric about racism and threats of boycotts, Jackson Sr. has hooked his boat to the Democratic Party, which floats down the mainstream. But he says the party of the New Deal and the Great Society is drifting too far to the right bank. "I'm tired of milquetoast Democrats," he says. He is reassessing his relationship to the party and, he vows, it's time, past time, to return to the streets and to jail if necessary. "Street heat," he insists, "still matters."
No one has ever really had to tell him to "Run, Jesse, run," the chant that followed him everywhere he went in the 1980s. Born out of wedlock in a tiny Greenville, S.C., house to a teenage mother in the Jim Crow South of 1941, Jesse Louis Jackson has been running his entire life to prove "I am . . . somebody."
"No white person could make that mantra, because it's clearly understood," he says. "I've seen so many people get bitter and drop out. Others adjust. They surrender and won't fight back. As Dr. King used to say, we must be permanently non-adjusted."
To be sure, Jackson recognizes the "profound" changes and progress the country has made since he was a young lieutenant in the non-violent crusade of Rev. Martin Luther King to overthrow American apartheid. But as he criss-crosses the country now, he sees troubling signs that the ideological offspring of the dream deniers of the past are trying to lock the doors again: attacking affirmative action, undermining voting rights and stacking the U.S. Supreme Court with members of the far and farther right.
"We slew Goliath," Jackson says. "But Goliath had some sons."
And so, he returns to the sky. For Jackson, staying home, staying silent would be a sin. So many Americans without health insurance, so many black and brown kids trapped in inferior public schools or behind the walls of state-of-the-art prisons, so many hungry families in Appalachia, so many farmers losing their faith and their land.
"This is my life," Jackson says of his ceaseless travel and activism. "This is my ministry. This is my mission. This is what God would have me do."
Sometimes Jackson looks back at his life growing up in Jim Crow America-the back of the bus, the movie house balcony, the crippling invisibility-and wonders "why we didn't all go crazy."
In Jackson's case it was two strong women, his mother and grandmother. They taught him early on that he was somebody. They had high hopes and great expectations for young Jesse and let him know it every day. "I was never meant to settle for average-ness," he says, "never programmed to settle for C's."
That's one reason he refuses to settle now for the cobwebbed corner labeled "civil rights leader." He prefers the title "liberator," and his liberating isn't confined to these shores. King used to say that the moral universe is long, and Jackson might show up anywhere in that universe reachable by plane, a proclivity that makes some people groan and roll their eyes. What does he know about foreign affairs? He's just a civil rights leader, a black preacher.
Even some of his supporters worry that Jackson jumps in and out of too many causes, on and off too many bandwagons, undermining his credibility, reinforcing the image that he is a media hound who provides not hope, but punch lines for late-night comedians.
Why did the Rev cross the road? To get to the cameras on the other coast.
One week the "Radiant Reverend," as writer Stanley Crouch called him, is in Florida, praying for the life of Terri Schiavo. The next, he's in California praying that the fallen King of Pop, Michael Jackson, can return to Neverland a free man.
"I see Rev. Jackson taking on 25 issues a week," says Melissa V. Harris Lacewell, assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago. "He's trying to chase every new problem. He shifts focus too quickly."
On the other hand, she says, "His contributions over the last 40 years have made an enormous difference. I can't imagine what it must feel like to free hostages," including a downed American fighter pilot in Syria in 1984, dozens of American hostages in Iraq in 1990 and three American soldiers in Yugoslavia in 1999. "Can you imagine doing that for your country? If he never did another thing, he doesn't have any more dues to pay."
For Earl Ofari Hutchinson-a Los Angeles-based activist and author of "The Disappearance of Black Leadership"-what's really driving matters when it comes to Jackson is a desire to "feather his own nest."
"He has parlayed black misery into a growth industry wrapped around Jesse Jackson," Hutchinson says. "Whatever the issue that comes up, it's always the same, Jesse is going to be there. His M.O. is: Get in. Get the media. And get the hell out."
But everybody agrees on at least one thing. They wish they had The Reverend's frequent flier miles.
All his globe-trotting costs money, big money, and Jackson is constantly on the telephone seeking corporate and private contributions. The 2004 budget for his National Rainbow/PUSH Coalition was $10.5 million. Bonita Parker, the coalition's chief operating officer, says the group's travel expenses for last year was nearly $1.3 million, about $580,000 of that for Jackson's trips. But most of Jackson's travel expenses, Parker says, are paid for by the numerous organizations that invite him to speak.
Jackson is everywhere except, it seems, Chicago, his adopted hometown since arriving in 1964 to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary in Hyde Park. Many weeks, he travels for four or five days out of seven. But he tries to be back by Friday night, so that on Saturday morning he can tape his television show, "Up Front With Jesse Jackson," and oversee the weekly meeting of Rainbow/PUSH. In one form or another, the meetings have been held every Saturday morning since 1966. On Sundays, he hosts a one-hour radio call-in show, "Keep Hope Alive," broadcast over the Clear Channel Radio network.
Don't be surprised, though, if Jackson starts spending more time in Chicago in the coming months. He's pushing hard to get tens of thousands of unregistered voters on the rolls as talk heats up that Jesse Jr. might run for mayor in 2007.
When asked, Jackson won't say a thing about his son's plans or prospects of taking over the big office at City Hall. "Buddy," he says with a twinkle in his brown eyes, "you must be trying to start some mess."
It's another day in the sky. This time Jackson is in a helicopter hovering above the green mountaintops of Venezuela on a late August afternoon.
It has been four days since Venezuela's controversial president, Hugo Chavez, dispatched a corporate jet to fetch Jackson to the oil-rich nation. The "goodwill" trip probably would have received little notice back home had not Rev. Pat Robertson suggested to millions of viewers of his television program that the U.S. assassinate Chavez, whose policies have long angered the Bush administration. Robertson has since apologized for the remark, but by now the fire is raging.
Everywhere Jackson goes in Venezuela, reporters follow. He obliges them, condemning Robertson's words as "illegal, immoral and repugnant. We try to manufacture a democracy in Iraq," he says, "and undermine one in our own hemisphere."
He is treated like a head of state. He speaks before a special session of the National Assembly called in his honor. He meets with the U.S. ambassador and with the oil minister of Venezuela, which owns the Texas-based Citgo petroleum company.
For four hours he confers with Chavez about oil, peace and God. The president comes out of their meeting talking about Jesus and the good news of the gospel. Jackson looks like a proud father.
On his last day in Venezuela, he takes a helicopter to a tiny town where most of the residents are descendants of African slaves. They operate a cooperative on land given to them as part of a Chavez land-reform program.
Under the shade of a white canopy, Jackson commands about 100 people to rise and repeat after him.
"I am . . . somebody."
"I am somebody," they mutter back in cautious but surprisingly good English.
"Louder," Jackson says.
"Louder," they repeat.
Jackson smiles and shakes his head no.
He presses on.
"Keep hope . . . alive."
"Keep hope . . . alive," they respond.
While Jackson was in Venezuela, Hurricane Katrina hit. He flew back to Chicago from Caracas, landing at Midway Airport at 3 a.m. A few hours later he was back in the sky, headed to Louisiana.
This is what the hull of a slave ship must have been like, Jackson thought when he got to New Orleans with a convoy of 10 buses. The stench of urine, feces and human misery slammed him in the face when the bus door opened. A dead baby. People pleading: Help us, help us. The sights, sounds and smells reminded him of the camps he witnessed in Darfur, the ravaged city in Sudan. But he wasn't in the era of slave ships or the Third World.
He loaded up the buses with about 450 Xavier University students. As they prepared to pull out, dozens of people formed a human chain to keep the buses from leaving, Jackson says. Take us, too, they pleaded. Don't leave us here. "We didn't have enough buses," he says. "To leave them in that situation was heart-wrenching."
Jackson prayed with the people he was leaving behind. The next day he returned with seven more buses. "I promised them I would come back and I did," he says. "I promised them I will be coming back again and again and I will."
But first, he returns to Chicago to tell the Saturday morning meeting of Rainbow/PUSH what he had seen and heard. He is furious with the news media for the way the mostly poor and black New Orleans victims of Katrina are being portrayed.
He holds up a photo of a young black man wading through filthy, chest-deep water, pulling a bag of food behind him. The caption describes the man as a "looter."
Then Jackson holds up a picture of a white couple, water up to their chests too. They are dragging food they had picked off the shelves of a grocery store. The caption says they had "found" the food.
"Blacks looting, whites finding," he says. "We've got a lot to talk about today."
Jackson spent most of last summer organizing an old-fashioned civil rights march in Atlanta to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which helped end racial discrimination at the ballot box, and to call for its key enforcement provisions to be re-authorized by Congress. The provisions expire in 2007, and Jackson warns that if they are not re-authorized, "It's like having the right to swim with no water in the pool."
To rally support for the Aug. 6 march, he hit the road hard and often, routinely putting in 12- to 15-hour days. He sat with mayors from coast to coast, with U.S. senators and church ladies in their regal Sunday hats.
"Meet me in Atlanta," he said everywhere he went.
In the space of four weeks, he addressed the annual convention of the NAACP in Milwaukee, the Urban League in Washington, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Birmingham and the AFL-CIO in Chicago. "I am not pleased with Democrats; I am not afraid of Republicans," he told the labor convention to rousing cheers. "We do not need one party with two names . . . . We must go on the offensive . . . . Our future is not going with either party, but rather to create enough legitimate people's action where both are following us."
He took his message to the electronic pulpit as well. He appeared on CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN and numerous other television and radio stations, including the BBC, which interviewed him about the London subway terrorist attacks. He traveled to Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, his hometown of Greenville, S.C., and made several trips to Atlanta, where all of his hard work paid off on a sticky southern Saturday when he led at least 15,000 people down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
The marchers were stretched out behind Jackson for block after block-all colors, all precious in God's sight, as he likes to say-voices raised in that hoary movement standard, "We Shall Overcome."
Willie Nelson came all the way from Hawaii to join him in the front line. Stevie Wonder and Harry Belafonte came too, along with labor leaders and prominent politicians, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.
"I think Dr. King would be happy today," Jackson said. "This is his dream team."
And he will just leave the negativity to the pundits and the naysayers, the ones he says wear the clean uniforms because they never get in the game. They say his day has passed, that he doesn't have the juice that he used to, that only 15,000 showed up at his keystone march after all that road work, and that's another illustration of why he should step aside and let some of the young bloods play quarterback. He'll tell you he doesn't worry about the critics and their talk.
But it's not just his critics who say it might be time for Jackson to take on a different role. "He's an incredible treasure for this country," says Salim Muwakkil, an independent writer, columnist and longtime Jackson watcher. "It's too bad he alienates so many people in such extreme ways. He knows the issues. He has incredible amounts of energy. But I think it is time for him to become more mentor-conscious, to step back a bit. I think he may be reaching that point of diminishing returns. When people stay around too long they wear out their welcome, no matter how brilliant they are."
Jackson says he's not preventing anyone from getting in the game. He's just doing his thing, working hard to be able to tell his maker when the time comes that he did his very best.
He'll also tell you that a leader doesn't follow public opinion polls. He molds public opinion. He shakes trees, rocks boats, swims upstream, takes risks. Or she does, he's quick to add.
"You can't score," he says, "without the risk of getting tackled or even fumbling."
Then he'll put his big hand on your shoulder and ask, "You get my drift?" He asked this of a New York City politician that question recently after delivering one of his mini-sermons on racial injustice and vote fraud, and the pol said, "Drift? That's a blizzard."
It is early July, just a few weeks before the big march. Jackson is in New York to do interviews about Atlanta and to attend the star-studded funeral of his friend, singer Luther Vandross.
Every chance he gets during his visit and throughout his summer sojourn, Jackson talks up what he calls "the coalition of the future," an alliance between blacks and Latinos. He may not be in Chicago as much as some would like, but he's keeping his eye on it all the time. A black-brown alliance got former Mayor Harold Washington elected, but fell apart when he died.
"People must see it as a possibility and not a problem," he says. "The top 100 cities in the U.S. are majority black and Latino. But both sides have their fists balled. We have to lift their wages, not lower ours."
Jackson wants African-American youngsters to learn Spanish because "next-door neighbors are supposed to talk to each other." Regrettably, he says, he doesn't speak the language himself, "but Congressman Jackson does," he says referring to his son. "You should hear him recite 'I Have a Dream' in Spanish."
But right now, The Reverend is hungry, hambriento. He wants to go to Sylvia's soul food restaurant in Harlem for what he calls "cultural cuisine." His aide, Shelley Davis, isn't keen on the idea. They don't have much time. In 90 minutes, Jackson is scheduled to be interviewed on "Hannity & Colmes" in midtown Manhattan. Davis is also worried about Jackson's diet. "I don't think we should eat that heavy," Davis says. He suggests they find a salad bar.
Like so many of his fellow Americans, Jackson is waging a civil war with his waistline. When he's in Chicago he works out at the ritzy East Bank Club and at a more democratic health club in the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood.
But this day Jackson laughs off the salad-bar idea and heads uptown to Sylvia's. As he walks through the door, he is greeted like a movie star. The other customers come over to his table to shake his hand and pull out their cell phone cameras asking him to pose with their wife, husband or baby. Jackson gets this reception in airports, on the street, even in the halls of the Capitol.
In Milwaukee, a young man even followed him into the restroom with a pen and paper. "Give me just a minute, buddy," Jackson pleaded.
At Sylvia's, Jackson is gracious but distracted. He has his eye on the next table. "See that chicken wing?" he asks a waitress. "It's calling my name."
Jackson answers the call of the chicken wing and still makes it to Fox on time. He sits down between the two hosts, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes. They have a few minutes before the segment begins, and Hannity is feeling put upon. He complains to Jackson about how much grief he has received from his "people," his viewers and political allies on the right, for being "nice" to Jackson when they were down in Florida on the same side of the Terri Schiavo controversy.
"That wasn't very Christian of your people," says Jackson, who also got grief from his supporters for ending up on the same side of the issue with the religious right.
"Keep me in your prayers," Hannity asks.
"I will," Jackson promises.
It's 6:45 on a Saturday morning in Chicago, and Jackson will be leaving soon for the airport to fly to Detroit.
He has been home for about eight hours, having returned from New York the night before. Now he is sitting in a chair in the television studio at Rainbow/PUSH. A makeup artist is powdering his face for the taping of his show, a 30-minute public affairs roundtable with Jackson as moderator and three or four guests-journalists, lawyers, professors-discussing the events of the last week. Unlike similar programs on the Big Three networks and major cable stations, Jackson makes sure his panels "look like America" by inviting women and people of color as guests.
The show is broadcast on the Word Network, a religious cable outlet. Jackson used to have a public affairs program on CNN but lost it when it was revealed that the married minister had fathered a daughter with a former member of his staff.
"I have never denied her," Jackson says of his little girl. "I never want her to feel like a stepchild. No, sir. I know how that feels."
The child is now 6 years old, pretty and bright, with a grown-up's vocabulary that foreshadows a future as an orator in her own right. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother, a college professor.
After the PUSH meeting, Jackson is approached outside by a 4th grader who asks him to look at her social studies assignment. She's shy, and he has to bend down to hear her say that her project won first place at her grade school. He gives her a kiss.
On three cardboard panels the girl has pasted pictures of Jackson from his days as a college quarterback to his time with Martin Luther King Jr. to his run for president. She calls it "I Am Somebody."
Jackson loves it. "Are you giving this to me?" he asks. "Can I keep it?"
Just then Jackson's wife, Jackie, drives up in a red Thunderbird convertible. Top down, wind blowing through her hair, sun shining in her face, living proof that life only gets better after 50.
"Jackie. Jackie, come over here right quick," Jackson shouts. "I want to show you something."
Other people might jump when he calls, but Jackie Jackson takes her time. She drives down the block, turns into an alley, backs out, parks and puts the top up.
They have been married since 1963, a union that has survived his endless days on the road, the hundreds of death threats when he ran for president and the rumors of his wandering eye. The marriage was sorely tested when the birth of his out-of-wedlock child was made public in 2001, but they weathered what he calls "my crisis." They have five adult children, Jesse Jr., the congressman; Jonathan and Yusef, businessmen who have a lucrative beer distributorship in Chicago; Jacqueline, who is studying for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Santita, who produces her father's television and radio shows.
"Jackie, come on," he insists.
Slowly she walks to her husband's side, hugging and kissing a dozen people along the way.
"You did a wonderful job," she tells the child.
An aide takes "I Am Somebody" to The Reverend's office.
That night, Jackson lands in Detroit, which is hosting the Major League All-Star Game. He loves baseball and has four tickets to the game, but he can't go; he has to be in Milwaukee to address the NAACP and then Los Angeles, where he will be honored by Magic Johnson's charity, meet with the city's newly elected Latino mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, visit with his 6-year-old daughter, conduct interviews with the Spanish-language press about the voting-rights march and a black-Latino alliance and go to the doctor for some relief for his aching feet.
He visits five churches during his brief stay in Detroit, including Fellowship Chapel, where the pastor, Wendell Anthony, is an old friend. About 300 people are in the pews, and Jackson asks who among them knows someone battling cancer. Dozens of hands go up. He asks who supports affirmative action, prays for peace and wants to see Detroit get back on its proud feet? Dozens of hands again go up.
Finally, he asks, who has ever attended a same-sex marriage ceremony?
He looks out at the congregation and does not see a single hand in the air.
"Tell me," he bellows, "how did that get in the middle of our agenda? That's wolf politics in sheep's clothing. We must not be so easily deceived. We must take the sheepskin off the wolves. We must fight back."
Someone shouts out, "Teach, Jesse, teach!"
No matter what his critics say, Jackson does not actually have feet of clay. But he does have hammertoes, and on this day in Los Angeles they are bothering him so much that his staff hustles to get him in to see a specialist a 20-minute car ride away.
The doctor looks at Jackson's feet and shakes his head. He's worked on them before.
"When are you going to get these things fixed?"
"If I get them fixed," Jackson says, "I wouldn't see you any more."
"You really should."
"Champions," Jackson says, "play with pain."
Back at the hotel, he suddenly takes off running across the lobby, weaving through several startled guests. When he reaches a man dressed in black about to get on an elevator, he gives him a tap softy on the cheek from behind.
The man slowly turns and when he sees that it is Jackson he throws up his fists, ready to box. The man's hands are trembling.
Jackson gives him a gentle kiss on the neck and says, "I love you, Champ."
Muhammad Ali smiles with his eyes, but does not say a word.
The next morning, Jackson heads to Aunt Rosa Lee's Mississippi soul food restaurant for some cultural cuisine: a breakfast of eggs, grits, chicken wings and biscuits. A dozen or so people are there, and he goes from table to table shaking hands.
When he gets to the table where Chris Church, 40, and Christina Goines, 34, are drinking coffee, he puts out his hand and says, "Good morning, friends."
Goines rolls her eyes and for a moment it looks like she'll leave his hand hanging in the air. But she shakes it, and as Jackson settles down to breakfast, she calls her mother, Cheryl, on her cell phone and tells her she will never believe who is eating at the next table.
A few minutes later, Cheryl Goines, the 54-year-old owner of a small accounting business, arrives at Rosa Lee's and stands over Jackson. He is at the top of a long list of black leaders the African-American woman has wanted to give a piece of her mind to for a long time.
"Why haven't I heard more support from you for Bill Cosby?" she demands, hands on her hips. "It's such a disappointment to me."
Jackson puts down his fork and wipes his mouth with his napkin.
"Good morning, ma'am," he says. "As a matter of fact, we were quite supportive of Bill."
In 2004, the famous comedian blasted poor blacks for what he said was their failure to hold up their end of the civil-rights movement. He said they spend too much money on gym shoes instead of books. And what's more, he said, they give their kids funny-sounding names.
Cosby was criticized and praised for his remarks, delivered at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. Jackson invited him to a PUSH event to explain and elaborate.
Jackson tells Goines that he agrees with a lot of what Cosby said, but the comedian's words were too harsh and lacked context. Jackson says he himself had long been an advocate of individual responsibility and for parents to get more involved in their children's education.
The woman is not impressed.
"You never talk about family values," she says.
"That's just not true," he says.
"There are no fathers in the home," she snaps.
They go back and forth for 25 minutes. Finally Jackson says: "First of all, I am a person. If I had come up to you and interrupted your breakfast and your conversation with your friends, you'd say I was a thug."
"I know I was rude," Goines says. "But I didn't want to miss this chance to tell you what I think."
Jackson stands up and hugs her. For the first time she smiles.
"I'm so angry with you," she says.
"The next time I'm in town, I'm going to come to your house for dinner," Jackson says. "I'm going to trust your cooking."
"Do you like hot food?" she asks.
"Cold," he says. "I don't want nothing hot from you."
She laughs and Jackson excuses himself. He has a plane to catch.
He had been approached by dozens of people over the last few weeks and until this confrontation over eggs and grits, no one had said anything remotely hostile. In the parking lot, he says: "Our people have so much pent-up stuff. I hear them out. It is part of my ministry."
Another day, a different city.
Jackson and his aides are waiting for their luggage at the Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., International Airport when a middle-aged white woman comes up to him. She doesn't want his autograph. "Jesse, help us get our boys out of Iraq," she says. "I have one there. He's had nine killed in his platoon in six months."
"How long has he been there?" Jackson asks.
An elderly white man slowly walks by, holding onto his wife's arm and a cane. "Keep up the great work for the country," he says.
Jackson has come to Greenville to see his mother, Helen, and to commemorate the event that sealed his fate: the day he was arrested as a teenager for trying to be treated like a full-fledged American citizen. "I wasn't trying to get arrested," he says. "I was trying to use the public library."
Jackson was a freshman at the University of Illinois in 1959 when he came home to Greenville for Christmas vacation. He couldn't be completely carefree, though; he had a major paper due shortly after classes resumed. To get a head start on the assignment, he went to the small branch library for colored people. None of the books he needed was there, but the librarian told him to go to the main branch downtown, the one for whites. Don't worry, she told him. She'd give him a note explaining the situation. There should be no problem.
With note in hand, Jackson hurried downtown and instinctively entered the library through the back door. He handed the note and the book list to the librarian, who told him to get out or he'd be arrested. But I just need some . . . Get out.
Jackson left and walked around to the front of the building. With tears streaming down his face, he read the sign above the entrance, "Public Library." He stood there, thinking about his stepfather and how he had served in World War II. He thought about how hard his mother and grandmother worked, how much they believed in God and country.
He vowed to come back through the front door.
That's what he did six months later, joined by seven former high school mates. They were arrested and became known as the Greenville Eight.
Now, 45 years later, Jackson and three of his classmates hold a news conference on the steps of the old police station where they were processed. Jackson says how important it is to remember the past, the pain, the struggles, the victories. "There is a new Greenville," he says. "And we're its architects."
A local reporter asks Jackson, "What would you say to people who compare you to criminals. You broke the law."
"We did," Jackson says. "We meant to. We broke an unjust law."
Later that night, Jackson and his old comrades gather at his mother's split-level house for fried chicken, cornbread, greens and sweet-potato casserole. His mother is feeling poorly and stays in her room, watching her son's television show. "I never miss it," she says.
The next day, Jackson wanders the streets of his past. "A lot of joy, a lot of pain, that's what this city represents to me," he says.
He strides down a Main Street lined with trees and quaint shops. "When I was a kid, there was never a single black employee on this street," he says. He points to a bench on the corner. "We couldn't have sat there. We'd have had to move on."
Later, he sits on the bench and is approached by four white college students, licking ice cream cones. "It's Jesse Jackson," one of them says. "It's an honor to meet you, sir."
Jackson walks over to 20 Haynie St., the tiny house where he was born, "right in that room over there," he says, adding, "Mama didn't have any insurance."
The past is heavy on his mind during his stay in Greenville. At the Evangelistic Temple he tells the 100 people in attendance: "Unless you know where you've been, you cannot measure where you are.
"You must tell your children our stories," he thunders. "Tell them we had one book for six of us. Tell them black teachers were paid less than whites by law. Tell them it was illegal for us to go to the zoo. TELL THEM."
He will never forget the stories, and that is one reason he cannot stop getting on airplanes, calling marches, chasing cameras, rhyming, running, preaching, protesting, telling the world: "I am . . . somebody."
"I think he likes not sleeping," says Lacewell, the U. of C. political scientist. "I think he likes the excitement of each new day, finding some new challenge. This is his identity. The struggle is Rev. Jesse Jackson. It is who he is. If he sat down, he'd die."
Whenever that day comes, this is what Jackson wants written on his tombstone: "He served against the odds."
But buddy, he doesn't have time right now to worry about retirement or mortality.
He has a plane to catch.
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