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Jesse Jackson: ‘We’ve Gone From Picking Cotton Balls To Picking Footballs’

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. at KUOW Public Radio on Tuesday.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. at KUOW Public Radio on Tuesday.

A large statue of George Washington, the first U.S. president, looms large over the University of Washington’s main campus.

Should the statue’s inscription read “slave owner”? Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. believes so.

“The writing does not mention slave master; it does not mention support for a crime against humanity,” Jackson told KUOW’s Bill Radke on Tuesday. Jackson was in Seattle to attend Microsoft’s annual meeting.

“That's a big piece of it,” he said. “At least educate people as to who this guy was.”

Roughly 3.5 percent of the UW’s student body is black. But the football team is about 60 percent black, Jackson said. And the basketball team is about 80 percent black.

“We have been cherry-picked to generate resources and generate imagery,” he said. “We've gone from picking cotton balls to picking footballs.”

Jackson said black students need to be given a better chance to excel in other fields.

“We are as capable, if given the same scholarship support in science, technology, engineering and math as we are in football, basketball and track,” he said.

“We want to be part of the upper growth of our society," he continued. "We stand to grow and get better when the competition is fairer."

The racial protests going on at the moment, led by Black Lives Matter groups, are necessary, he said. Students of his generation were fighting for freedom; today they’re fighting for equality, he said.

Still, the murders of African-Americans in Chicago go unnoticed by the rest of the country.

"In Chicago right now, for example, you have a policeman who shot a kid 16 times,” Jackson said. “Nine police officers saw it and never gave him a bad report. And they suppressed a tape for 13 months, and this is the 18th infraction of this one policeman.”

That was just one case, Jackson said. In Chicago this year, 450 people have been killed. Another 2,700 have been shot.

People paid attention to the attacks in Paris, Beirut and Egypt – and yet, Chicago’s death toll eclipses all those combined, he said.

“So black lives do matter,” he said. “People do matter. Everybody is somebody.”

Radke mentioned an African-American woman who told KUOW she was offended when white people want to touch her hair.

Some listeners complained that it was not a racist gesture. "'I’m not racist, but let’s not turn an innocent curiosity into racism,’” Radke quoted.

"Well, if an African-American male touches a white lady's hair because he's curious, he may be accused of violating the law,” Jackson said. “People shouldn't touch people."

Listen to The Record at noon Wednesday for more conversation with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He’ll talk about progress on diversity in hiring and promotion at tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft, which is having its annual meeting Tuesday.

Year started with KUOW: 2012
Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012