Organizers of the two recent marches on Washington – one called by Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King, III and the other engineered primarily by King's sister, Bernice – almost stumbled over one another praising the diversity of their respective marches.
However, not one addressed the elephant in the room: Why was more emphasis placed on bringing in groups that were not part of the push for jobs and freedom in 1963 than assembling a broad coalition of Black leaders? To be even more direct: How can you justify excluding Minister Louis Farrakhan? After all, he managed to draw more Black men to the nation's capital on Oct. 16, 1995 than the combined crowds at the 1963 March on Washington, the Sharpton-led march on Aug. 24 and the Aug. 28 commemorative march. In fact, the Million Man March at least doubled their combined attendance.
Regardless of your personal view of Farrakhan, he has demonstrated that he has a significant following in the Black community and deserves to be part of any serious attempt to address the numerous problems facing Black America.
Of course, the reason Farrakhan was excluded is because he is anathema to Jews, who view him as a virulent anti-Semite. Essentially, the choice for Black leaders is that they must choose between Jews, longtime allies of the Civil Rights Movement, and Farrakhan, who inspires and motivates some segments of the Black community that establishment leaders can't reach.
Over the years, Black leaders have sided with Jews. Except for a couple of months under Kweisi Mfume, the Congressional Black Caucus, one of the strongest pro-Israel voting blocs in Congress, and the NAACP under Ben Chavis have consistently distanced themselves from Farrakhan.
At its 1993 CBC Weekend town hall meeting on "Race in America," Mfume declared, "No longer will we allow people to divide us. We want the word to go forward today to friend and foe alike that the Congressional Black Caucus, after having entered into a sacred covenant with the NAACP to work for real and meaningful change, will enter into that same covenant with the Nation of Islam"' and other Black organizations, such as fraternities, sororities and professional groups. But after Farrakhan assistant Khalid Abdul Muhammad gave a speech at Keene College in New Jersey denouncing Jews as "blood suckers" and the Pope as a "no good cracker," CBC members pressured Mfume to withdraw the offer of a covenant.
Non-Blacks never understood that Mfume wasn't endorsing Farrakhan's or Muhammad's views of Jews. Rather he was advocating what civil rights leaders call "operational unity," meaning that they will cooperate to collectively address some of the ills in the African American community while maintaining their independence.
Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told the Los Angeles Times, "There is a failure of many Jews to understand the sense of crisis in the black community." But he added, "There is a lack of appreciation by blacks of Jewish anxieties over their embracing people like Farrakhan who are vicious anti-Semites."
Although he spoke at Sharpton's rally, Jesse Jackson was noticeably absent from the array of speakers at the Aug. 28 observation that featured President Barack Obama and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Jackson, who had his own share of problems with Jews after he referred to New York City as "Hymietown" during his 1984 presidential campaign, was probably omitted from the program because of his strained relationship with Obama.
Jackson alienated Obama supporters when he was caught on tape disparaging then-candidate Obama. As Jackson prepared to be interviewed on "Fox & Friends Weekend," he was overheard saying Obama had been talking down to Black people. Jackson told a fellow guest that he wanted to cut off Obama's testicles. He quickly apologized for what he called "crude and hurtful comments."
Jackson's comments hurt his standing in the Black community more than it hurt Obama, who accepted Jackson's apology before going on to win the general election.
Although Obama accepted Jackson's apology, Jackson is not been among the civil rights leaders who meet regularly with the president or Valerie Jarrett, a top White House adviser. And many African Americans, who overwhelmingly support the nation's first Black president, have yet to forgive Jackson for his comments. Few will admit that in one respect, Jackson was right – Obama sometimes comes across as lecturing Black audiences while not doing the same when speaking to mostly White groups.
Jackson acknowledges that he was wrong for saying he wanted to dismember a certain part of Obama's lower body. However, that was five years ago and the civil rights leader has contributed too much over the past four decades to be forever excommunicated from the Black race.
The two recent marches on Washington are over and shouldn't be the yardstick by which we judge the value of Black leaders. The Black community is in a crisis and needs all of the help it can get, regardless of how unpopular that might be with others.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service.