Building a Black/Latino Coalition for Racial and Economic Justice A statement by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
MIAMI, FL – April 5, 2017 – (HISPANICIZE WIRE) – As quiet as it’s kept, African Americans and Latinos have been allies in the freedom struggle, supporting and inspiring each other since the Civil Rights Movement.
In September of 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram to Cesar Chavez, who was locked in his own historic crusade for human dignity and economic justice.
“As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members,” he wrote. “The fight for equality must be fought on many fronts – in the urban slums, in the sweat shops of the factories and fields. Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”
Two years later, Dr. King spent his last birthday – Jan. 15, 1968 – meeting in the basement of his church in Atlanta with our Latino allies from Southwest Texas and California, our Jewish brothers and sisters from the East Coast, Native Americans, African Americans from the Black Belt of the South, as well as whites from the hills of hollows of Appalachia, to plan the Poor People’s Campaign. He believed there must be a floor beneath which no one should fall. He was moving from civil rights to silver rights.
Less than four months later Dr. King was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968 – 49 years ago yesterday.
But a bullet could not kill the movement. We have never stopped doing Dr. King’s work.
In 1983, PUSH signed an “alliance for political and economic equality” with two of the largest Latino groups in the United States – the Hispanic Leadership Conference and the League of United Latin American Citizens, headed by Tony Bonilla.
“It was the first time,” according to Black Enterprise, “blacks and Hispanics had entered into an economic agreement of such magnitude.”
Jet Magazine also wrote about our successful efforts to build a black-brown coalition. Jet reported that we were holding a series of meetings “aimed at producing unity and ensuring that the two groups do not play into the hand of divisive politicians and ‘fight each other for crumbs’ of opportunity.”
What I told the magazine then is still true today: “Both communities are so violated judicially and economically upon such hard times, we must turn to each other and not on each other. We’ve been locked out by color, culture and language we must now turn that minus into a plus.”
On July 30, 1983 our black and brown coalition of conscience and equality signed a 5-year agreement with Southland Corp., the owner of 7-Eleven convenience stores, for more than $500 million.
The agreement included increasing the percentage of blacks and Hispanics to 23 percent of the company’s total work force, and to purchase goods and services from black and Hispanic suppliers.
We followed that agreement up the next year with a similar pact with the Miller Brewing Company on June 1, 1984, which you can read about in the book “Chicanas/Chicanos at the Crossroads: Social, Economic and Political Change.”
We’ve also been allies in the fight to protect the rights of immigrants. On May 19, 1984, I led an estimated 5,000 people, according to The New York Times, on a march through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to “protest raids conducted by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and pending immigration legislation.”
The Times said, “Those marching at the front with him, arms entwined, included Latinos, Asian-Americans, blacks and whites.”
“There is a virtual hysteria against the undocumented, fanned by the last two Administrations, that allows such inhumane treatment to continue,” I said that day. “This hysteria is fueled by a combination of myth, stereotype, meanness and political expediency.”
In 1985, Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago, a man blacks, Latinos and progressive whites worked day and night to get elected against all odds, turned Chicago into a sanctuary city for the first time when he signed an executive order ending the city’s practice of asking job and license applicants about their U.S. citizenship and halting cooperation by city agencies with federal immigration authorities.
Three years later, I joined my brother Cesar Chavez in Delano, California where he was entering the 30th day of a water-only fast to protest unsafe working conditions for farm workers.
A group of us took his place, fasting for three days each in a “chain of suffering.”
“Cesar cannot bear the cross alone,” I told the Chicago Tribune. “The suffering must be shared.”
When Cesar’s wonderful, brave heart finally gave out in 1993 I was honored to be one of the pallbearers who helped carry his white pine coffin down the dusty farm roads with 35,000 mourners following behind.
But even the best relationship can fall apart if it is taken for granted. It has to be nurtured. So, from time to time it is good to renew our vows and to remind ourselves and each other that we are in this together.
Today, we stand with our Latino brothers and sisters in speaking out against a new wave of racist policies, including mass deportations, banning Muslims and building walls instead of bridges.
Mexico isn’t our backdoor; it is our neighbor. We share some 2,000 miles of border and must not be foolish enough to turn our closest ally and security partner into an enemy with hostile rhetoric and gestures.
English is the minority language in our hemisphere. Mexico is our strongest link to the two-thirds of our hemisphere that speaks Spanish.
Every day, the U.S. and Mexico exchange $1.4 billion in two-way trade. Mexico is our second largest export market after Canada.
We are forever hooked at the hip, bound by God.
Let us not fall victim to the false narrative that turns the exploited into the exploiters, a divide and conquer scheme we have seen time and time again.
The top 100 cities in the United States are majority black and brown. If we stick together, if we continue to nurture our relationship in the spirit of Martin and Cesar, we shall overcome.
About Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justice around the world.
Get Informed & Be Social with PUSH!
Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.