Against the tide

"Against the tide" Continued...

Issue: "50 years after the bomb," Sept. 21, 2013

On the campaign trail today, Jackson tells Virginians that he is “not running to be pastor of Virginia or theologian of Virginia.” Instead, he says he wants to “get the government off of our backs.” Jackson says he is an example that an African-American can have success with less government and greater personal responsibility.

“People ask me why are you conservative? My dad instilled those values in me. He was a black man born in 1915 who had an optimistic view about this nation.” His father said he had to work hard and resist the temptation to make excuses. When people find out that you are trying to do something with your life, you will be amazed how help will come from unexpected places, his father told Jackson.

His father lived as a hobo during the Great Depression, riding freight trains across the country looking for work. “My father had people come out of their doors offering sandwiches and lemonade. He saw the fundamental decency of the American people. They didn’t care about the color of his skin. They just knew that he was hurting.”

Years later his father made the young Jackson do his homework right after school and remain within earshot when playing outside afterward. When he heard his father’s whistle—the loudest in the neighborhood—Jackson raced home before his father came to look for him. But his father also saved up to take Jackson to the Wildwood amusement park in New Jersey and promised him a car if he did well in school. When Jackson turned 16, his father could not afford another car. So he gave his own car to his son.

Driving around in his 1960 black Pontiac Catalina, Jackson felt like the coolest teenager on campus. He had one responsibility: He had to pick up his father from work. Jackson still remembers how dirty and soot-covered his father looked coming out of the shipyard along the Delaware River.

Jackson tells families that the blessings in his life aren’t based on government programs. His father hated welfare and food stamps, choosing work instead. “What I want to say to the average black person is do you want the success of seeing your kids get degrees from top schools and get good jobs or do you simply want a check every month that guarantees you a subsistence existence? To me that is an easy choice.”

That’s why Jackson founded Youth With a Destiny, a nonprofit helping inner-city youth avoid gangs and violence. He also began Exodus Now, an effort to encourage Christians in the black community to leave the Democratic Party because its leadership has “abandoned the founding principles of this nation.” Married for 42 years and with three children, Jackson also started the annual Chesapeake Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Breakfast that’s continued for more than a decade.

Jackson had his own exodus. An active member of the Democratic Party during his nearly three decades living in Boston, Jackson once won election to the party’s Massachusetts State Committee. But the party’s stances on abortion brought about a crisis of conscience: He left the party in the 1980s, and in 1998 he left Massachusetts, saying he was looking for a place more compatible with his faith. He settled in Virginia where his ancestors once were sharecroppers.

In stump speeches Jackson doesn’t emphasize race. “I’m not an African-American, I am an American,” is one of his favorite lines. He describes instead the threat he sees to the country’s traditional Judeo-Christian values. He calls that perspective “essential to the character of our country” and fears a nation that turns to government instead of God.

Jackson’s race will be watched by Republicans across the country who are reaching out to minority voters and debating how to handle social issues in the aftermath of the 2012 elections. Some favor moderating or minimizing the party’s social views. But the 2013 Economic Values Survey, published this summer by the left-leaning Brookings Institution, found that more Americans (29 percent) identify themselves as social conservatives than as economic conservatives (25 percent). The polling of more than 2,000 Americans found that 48 percent of Republicans call themselves social conservatives, suggesting that the party ignores such issues at its own risk.

“It is not a battle between Democrats and Republicans or between black and white or rich and poor,” Jackson says. “I think this is ultimately a spiritual battle over vision and values.”

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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