For most Americans, Jesse Jackson first popped into view immediately following the sniper assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968.
The very next day Jackson was on NBC’s Today show telling the world that King had “died in my arms” on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He graphically detailed how he alone had cradled the Reverend King’s head and was “the last person on Earth” to hear King’s dying words. To ratchet up the emotional temperature, Mr. Jackson appeared on camera sporting a stained turtleneck sweater that he assured the world was drenched in the blood of Doctor King. It was gripping television.
Jackson repeated this story at a Chicago City Council commemoration of King later that day and again four days after that in the Chicago Defender and also in more than a hundred more news articles over the following seven years. It was all a load of crap. Mr. Jackson fabricated every bit of this false history, right down to the bogus blood-stained photo-op-prop turtleneck sweater.
White liberals just “knew” that Jackson was the “fiery heir apparent to Martin Luther King” because no less an intellectual luminary than Hugh Hefner had vouched for Jackson using those exact words in a Playboy magazine interview (Nov, 1969). Playboy assured all liberals that “The Reverend Jackson’s first national exposure came as a result of his closeness to Dr. King. He was talking to King on the porch of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when the fatal shot was fired, and cradled the dying man in his arms.”
Hefner needed better fact checkers; so did Time magazine, which repeated this whopper as a cover story in its April 6, 1970 issue. Jackson’s preposterous self promotion was finally blown apart in 1975 when black reporter Barbara Reynolds made the effort to interview members of Reverend King’s inner circle.
Speaking bluntly, Hosea Williams, a close associate of King who was present when the sniper struck, declared: “The only person who cradled Dr. King was [the Reverend Ralph] Abernathy.” He added, “It’s a helluva thing to capitalize on a man’s death, especially one you professed to love.”
The Reverend Ralph Abernathy remarked, “I am sure Reverend Jackson would not say to me that he cradled Dr. King. I am sure that Reverend Jackson would realize that I was the person who was on the balcony with Dr. King and did not leave his side until he was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis. I am sure that he would not say to me that he even came near Dr. King after Doc was shot.”
Here’s the truth: When the shot was fired Jackson was schmoozing with Chicago musician Ben Branch in the motel courtyard. Mr. Branch later reflected, “My guess is that Jesse smeared the blood on his shirt after getting it off the balcony. But who knows where he got it from? All I can say is that Jesse didn’t touch him.” An eye witness reported that Jackson hid behind the motel swimming pool after the shot was fired.
The first persons to reach the wounded civil rights leader were Andrew Young and an unidentified white man who gave assistance. They were joined almost immediately by Ralph Abernathy.
For many years Jesse Jackson would point to a photograph of himself in the company of Dr. King and the Reverend Abernathy on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel as evidence that he was with King at his death. In truth, that photo had been taken a day earlier, not moments before King’s fatal injury, as Jackson falsely claimed. Photographs that were taken seconds after the rifle shot do not include Jesse Jackson.
When an ambulance arrived, it was Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy who went with King to the hospital. Only when the news crews from ABC, NBC and CBS arrived at the motel did Jackson come out of hiding and begin spouting lies about how he was the last person to whom King spoke. Hosea Williams recalls: “I was in my room. I looked out and saw Jesse talking to these TV people. I came out to hear what was being said. I heard Jesse say, ‘Yes, I was the last man in the world King spoke to.’”
Upon hearing this outrageous lie, Mr. Williams jumped a railing and dashed toward Jackson. He was restrained by a police officer. “I called Jesse a dirty, stinking, lying so-and-so . . .”
The Jackson mythology deepened when reporters began referring to Mr. Jackson as Reverend Jackson, when, in fact, he was no such thing. Jackson was a seminary school dropout. He attended the Chicago Theological Seminary for a scant six months and then dropped out. He failed a required course in sermon composition and oration. Jackson failed to complete even a required minimum of three one-hour classes a week. In 1967, Jackson was put on the school’s “reserve” list because it was evident that he would not graduate. So, Mister Jackson was not a reverend in 1968; he simply awarded himself that title to promote himself in an occupation that was rife with clergymen: civil rights activism.
The Chicago Theological Seminary didn’t award Jackson a divinity degree until June of 2000, by which time the school’s board of trustees included the influential Democrat congressman from Chicago, Jesse Jackson, Junior. To “earn” his diploma, Jesse Jackson the Elder spent a relaxed hour answering a few questions posed to him by an admittedly awestruck young woman.