REV. JESSE JACKSON: God's frequent flier
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.