What a fraud!
Famed civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and many in his organization were leery of the upstart Jesse Jackson, who they saw as race baiting and conflict driven. In addition, everyone else at the SCLC was a minister. Jackson’s unenthusiastic and short-lived attendance at seminary made clear he was not interested in pastoring a flock, yet he found a way to work the system and put the “Rev.” in front of his name. Surely worst, however, in Jackson’s never-ending pursuit of self-promotion was his callous disregard for Dr. King’s honor at the time of his assassination.
No matter how hard Jackson may have worked to get to the front of the line of luminaries within the late 1960s civil rights movement, he lacked one thing that King’s closest confidants possessed: Jackson wasn’t a man of the cloth.
“Dr. King told Jesse that everybody who worked in the movement was a minister,” said Hurley Green, a former speechwriter, columnist, and friend of Jackson, “so Jesse went to seminary for six months, dropped out, and called himself a minister.”
Jackson’s limited time spent at the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) was verified by Chaplain A. Knighton Stanley, who stated that Jackson was not committed to the church nor had he discovered a true vocation. Jackson had even failed to fulfill the required class on sermon writing and delivery that one would think would be important for someone truly interested in the ministry and communicating with his flock.
Jackson later clarified why he attended CTS for the time that he did. “I decided to go to seminary to learn how to do without the law to change society, to change it in deeper ways,” he said.
The distrust and exasperation King had with Jackson continued through 1968. In Memphis, one week before the assassination, King made a decision to cancel participation in a demonstration that he believed could turn violent. Jackson, in front of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff, boisterously disagreed with King’s cancellation of the march.
Angry at Jackson’s response, King walked out of the meeting. The team neared the breaking point with Jackson as they, as Timmerman wrote, “mistrusted his ambition, his audacity, and his refusal to be a team player.” They could have never imagined the depths to which Jackson would sink a week later.