As the namesake scion of arguably the most famous black man on the planet,Junior’s entire life has been lived under a mega-watt flashing spotlight at times, and at others under the close scrutiny of an electron microscope.
Even before his birth, in utero, that is, Jackson Junior struggled to avoid being eclipsed by the larger than life shadow cast by his father. For example, Junior himself tells the rather bizarre story of how he got his name in the first place: He was born on March 11, 1965, four days after the “Selma To Montgomery March,” a crucial and defining moment and signature event in the Civil Rights Movement's not always "nonviolent" struggle. The initial marchers were so savagely beaten by Alabama law enforcement agents that the march has forever since been known as “Bloody Sunday.” A later, successful march was led by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, along with hundreds of other political and religious leaders from throughout the country -- and, of course, an embarassingly young and unknown political firebrand from Chicago, by way of South Carolina, the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson.
Rev. Jackson’s wife, Jacqueline ("Jackie"), was heavily pregnant with Junior at the time of the Selma march. After the turblence, trials and tribulations of the March and then the almost simultaneous birth of his first son, the senior Jackson was so taken with the obviously ordained convergence of the two momentous occurrences that he vociferously urged his wife to name their newborn son “Selma.” Fortunately, for Jesse Junior (and perhaps the world), Jackie resisted her husband's entreaties and prevailed upon him to not get too carried away and just name the boy “Jesse Junior.”
And so Jackson Junior was born in the crucible of an epic struggle. Throughout his childhood, he faced questions, always about his father. They usually went something like this: How does a man with no visible means of support send his kids to the best private elementary school in Chicago, exclusive military academies, and later to top private colleges and universities? How does such a man live in a luxurious home among Chicago's black business and political elite, again, with no visible job? True, “Operation Breadbasket” which morphed into “Operation Push” after Dr. King's murder, and now is known as “The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition,” have all, presumably, paid a salary to the good reverend....but, I digress. This story is not about the father, but the son.
Jackson Junior has always been expected to not just follow in his famous father's footsteps, but to someday at least eclipse him as America's foremost black leader, and possibly “cross over” into race-neutral leadership territory, a la' Barack Obama. From childhood, Junior's been active in most of his father's causes and campaigns – from economic boycotts of stores and businesses that refused to hire blacks, to protest demonstrations outside the South African Consulate in Chicago during Nelson Mandela's long imprisonment, to virtually running Rev. Jackson's two campaigns for president. He served in various capacities and offices at Rainbow/PUSH until he was himself bitten by the political bug in the mid-'90s.
Jesse Junior felt himself qualified for a congressional seat, after the incumbent in the 2nd Congressional District of Illinois was convicted of child molestation charges. Thus, in 1995, he won a contentious Democratic Primary election featuring several well-known, old-line, black Chicago politicians; and he has virtually cake-walked through every subsequent election since.
As a freshman congressman he was determined to make a name for himself, as himself, separate and apart from his father. He quickly became known as a hard worker, polite to the point of courtliness, unassuming, articulate and fiercely dedicated to his constituents and their myriad issues and problems. He set records for never missing congressional votes and...for honesty. Jackson Junior is rated as one of the most “liberal” members of congress. I will not recount that record here, for it is easily accessible.
For coming up on two months now, Congressman Jackson has been AWOL from Congress, from Chicago, from, most importantly, his constituents. He'd just won a hard-fought primary election and, at first, most folks assumed he had just taken a well deserved vacation. After the first two weeks of his absence, with no word from him or his staff, rumors and whisperings about his disappearance began. After the first month, the national press and media began questioning his uncharacteristic no-shows on some important legislation.
Then a couple of weeks ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that his staff had issued a terse statement saying that the congressman was in an “undisclosed location,” attempting to recover from “exhaustion.” Fine. But couldn't you tell somebody, like your constituents, that you'd be away for awhile?
Questions abounded. His disappearance wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that he is under both federal prosecutor scrutiny and congressional investigation for allegedly attempting to buy Obama's old Senate seat from now imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich? Or could it be that the revelation a couple of years ago about his dalliance with a certain blonde Washington, D.C. “hostess” had contributed anything to his “exhaustion?”
No one in Chicago is writing Jesse Jackson, Jr. off as politically dead. He did, after all, win his latest primary and will surely win another term in congress in the November General Election. But surely he must realize that just being a member of black America's political royalty does not give him an automatic pass to thumb his nose at those who trust his judgment, who support him, who voted for him.
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