THE BLOG
03/22/2009 01:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hey, Nina/NPR, Jesse Was Early! Jackson Got to Selma 44 Years Ago!

NPR's Nina Totenberg had a touching story this week concerning the bridge at Selma, and the reconciliation of George Wallace's daughter with the civil rights movement.
Too bad she just couldn't resist taking a cheap shot at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, injecting some irrelevant barbs because they got to one of the programs "late". (Is NPR into snark now?)
The "late" nonsense is particularly galling when it comes to Jesse, who actually got to Selma very, very early. He got there 44 years ago.
In March of 1965, after watching the news showing John Lewis and his comrades getting their heads knocked in trying to cross the Selma bridge, Jackson and some of his fellow graduate students in theology, both Black & White (including my buddy the Reverend Gary Massoni), jumped into a car in Chicago and drove straight through to the encampment at Selma. Jesse was 23.
That's when Jackson met his hero, Dr. King, got hired on the SCLC staff, and never went back to graduate school, choosing instead a lifetime with the movement. Eventually Dr. King sent Jackson to Chicago to launch Operation Breadbasket, which led to Operation PUSH and the National Rainbow Coalition. History in the making.
It also led directly to empowering the African-American political community in Illinois, with the result that the only 3 African-American Democratic Senators since the civil rights movement have all come from Illinois. The 2nd of the 3 was named Obama. Big assist from Jackson, who got to Selma early.
Jackson's years of work helped create the climate and register enough voters for Harold Washington's history-making election as Mayor of Chicago. That election led to a young Barack Obama beginning his community organizing by choosing to move to Chicago after college, to organize steelworkers, in a city where change seemed possible. Another assist for Jackson, who got to Selma early.
And of course, Jesse ran for President in 1984 & 1988, campaigns that President Obama has said inspired him. Larger possibilities became more real.
Not only that, we changed the party rules in those campaigns, to make them fairer and more proportional--rules changes which I would argue (I was Jackson's delegate coordinator in '88)--made it much easier for Barack Obama to win the primaries last year. When Bill Clinton complained that they'd have won if the Democrats had had the GOP rules, he was correct--but the reason we didn't have those undemocratic winner-take-all rules any more was because the Jackson Presidential campaigns forced changes.
And during those campaigns, we helped register millions of young African-American voters, most of whom are now middle-aged, and almost all of whom helped elect Barack Obama last year.
Yet another big assist for Jackson, who got to Selma early.