D.C. Rallies Illuminate Racial Divide

This weekend there were dueling rallies in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s 1968 “March on Washington” speech. Talk show host Glenn Beck chose the date to hold a rally at the Lincoln Memorial to “restore honor” to the United States and its citizens. A smaller counter-rally was organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton. African-American pastor Harry Jackson, who spoke at Beck’s rally, says while the audience was predominantly white, several of the front row invited guests were African-American faith leaders. Bishop Jackson discusses the complicated relationship between black conservatives and the republican party.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Five years ago today, much of New Orleans was under water. More than a million people were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and some never moved back. We'll hear the tale of a Vietnamese-American family pining for the old neighborhood from its new neighborhood in Houston.

But first, it's the tale of two very different rallies this past weekend in Washington. Tens of thousands, maybe more, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial Saturday for an event put together by Fox News Channel talk show host Glenn Beck. He called it Restoring Honor.

Mr. GLENN BECK (Talk Show Host, Fox News Channel): Look ahead. Dream about what we're going to become, not worried about what we are. Look forward, look West, look to the heavens, look to God and make your choice.

(Soundbite of applause)

KEYES: While Beck's rally was predominately white, a much smaller rally and march to the National Mall on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington speech was predominately black. Here's Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend AL SHARPTON (Civil Rights Activist): They want to disgrace this day and we're not giving them this day. This is our day and we ain't giving it away.

KEYES: African-American Pastor Harry Jackson chose the Beck rally. In fact, he spoke there and he's with us now in our Washington, D.C. studio. Bishop Jackson, excuse me, leads a Pentecostal congregation at the Hope Christian Church just outside of Washington and has also founded what he calls the High Impact Leadership Coalition which focuses on abortion and same-sex marriage. Welcome, Bishop.

Bishop HARRY JACKSON (Hope Christian Church): Thank you very much for having me here, Allison.

KEYES: Let me first ask you, how do you rate Saturday's rally?

Bishop JACKSON: I thought it was A plus because they stayed away from politics, largely focused on the moral and social issues, which...

KEYES: In other words, there weren't the signs that you've seen at some of the Tea Party-ish rallies over the last...

Bishop JACKSON: Exactly. It wasn't really the same group. And upfront, there were about 200 ministers in reserved seating. About 60 of those folks were people of color, ranging from American, Native-Americans on to blacks and Hispanics. And so I believe it was a unifying cry for folks to begin to say America needs a spiritual answer to some of the problems that we face today.

KEYES: So you're saying it was a racially - a more racially diverse rally than it looked on television?

Bishop JACKSON: Only among the leadership. Now if you walked through the crowd - as I walked away from the platform, I had ovations, people stood up, cheered, but it was because that crowd was largely white. But among the leadership people, if you were able to see it up close, were really focused on and featured by Beck in terms of their teams saying come out, join us, let's make a difference in America. Those people were very, very diverse. But the majority, 95 percent of the whole crowd was white American.

KEYES: You wrote an article that ran on Friday titled, "Beck's Rally, What Would MLK Do?" And as we've already said, Reverend Sharpton had a simultaneous rally called Reclaim the Dream.

Bishop JACKSON: Yeah.

KEYES: But you wrote that the question for the weekend would be what would Martin Luther King Jr. do about the social ills of our day? What do you think is the answer to that? And of the two factions which rallied, why do you think Beck's more embodies what King's dream was?

Bishop JACKSON: Well let me say that there was - after hearing about Sharpton's, there's real value to what he emphasized when they weren't kind of bashing, or as the kid call it, player hating. But his emphasis on education as a major problem for African-Americans is huge. It still creates a lot of the economic gaps that we have in our society. I'm an advocate for the poor. So what I thought Beck brought to the table, contrary to some of the rhetoric that has been part and parcel of how they talk about the administration and other things...

KEYES: How they, meaning Beck?

Bishop JACKSON: Meaning Beck.

KEYES: Okay.

Bishop JACKSON: Beck specifically personally. Is that he managed to bring together this large group of evangelicals, predominately, working with someone who is a member of the Mormon Church, is very rare. We've had some partnership with regard to the marriage battle in California, even here in D.C.

KEYES: And I should quote, your organization opposes same-sex marriage.

Bishop JACKSON: We oppose same-sex marriage. And some Mormon funders have been really instrumental in the social concerns. So I think it was an amazingly unifying event from that perspective of saying there's going to need to be a broad coalition who are going to restore some of the American values in terms of these social concerns. And that's where we were.

KEYES: I'm interested in that coalition because you've wrote - written about it, I should say. Who's in this coalition? What's it look like?

Bishop JACKSON: Well, I think it looks Roman Catholics, black, white and Hispanic evangelicals - meaning folks who talk about the born again experience, they're Bible-believing. They have a high regard to what I would call the integrity of Scripture. And you now bring on other groups such as the Mormons did a huge job in California relative to the funding of that effort to protect marriage. Those folks are concerned about certain things that are, again, on the social order.

And I don't think the two rallies should be seen as competing. I think in some way they may be completing if you take the tendency of both the figureheads to want to play for the headline, if you know what I mean, by incendiary language.

KEYES: I'm wondering, we were just talking about the racial getup of both rallies, but it seems to me that many African-Americans think that Glenn Beck holds views that are hostile to black people and to President Obama. I wonder if you think that some socially-conservative blacks might agree with your views morally but be concerned about that dynamic.

Bishop JACKSON: Well I was personally concerned myself, to tell you the truth. And if it had not been for Alveda King, who is the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., who personally invited me to come, David Barton, who is an amazing historian from a Christian perspective who does a whole thing about blacks who were involved in the Revolutionary War, and he's got a huge emphasis on what my mother taught me around the kitchen table that doesn't no longer get taught in school, I probably would have stayed away myself.

But in talking to the two of them - and I wasn't coerced into this by Beck or his party, or his group rather - they really helped me see what they thought the vision was to come out and let there be an alarm that there has to be engagement of people who have a faith orientation. And, you know, as the revolutionary folks said, we must all hang together or we will all hang separately, was their kind of idea.

KEYES: I'm curious whether you think that conservative blacks or black people in general, and I've got to ask it briefly, have an issue with the president's policies and with his moral compass, as Glenn Beck has suggested.

Bishop JACKSON: I would think that we're mixed. I'm as proud as I can be that President Obama is the first black man to hold that great seat, that the glass ceiling has been broken for African-Americans. No longer do my kids have to wonder whether you can be whatever you can be in America. We've got to give it to him for that and for running the most amazing presidential campaign in recent history.

Secondly though, on these issues of marriage, I'm just very concerned at his statements about he would sign a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and things along that nature. So there is going to be ambivalence around who he is, who Beck is, and those guys are as it relates to the president.

KEYES: Bishop, let me ask you really quickly, will we see you partnering more with Glenn Beck in the future?

Bishop JACKSON: You may. The question for me is I want to create a swing vote that African-Americans are not just owned by the Democratic Party.

KEYES: Okay. Bishop Harry Jackson of the Hope Christian Church just outside of Washington and the High Impact Leadership Coalition joined us right here in our studies in Washington, D.C. Thank you, sir, so much for your insights.

Bishop JACKSON: Thank you, ma'am.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.