Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Jackie Jackson: Jesse's not the only orator in the family

SHE has traveled to foreign nations and met their leaders. She took part in sit-ins during the civil rights struggles of the '60s, and has been making speeches for years.

She is also married to one of the most famous men in politics, and Jacqueline Davis Jackson is tired of hearing that people don't know about her. She has grown weary of remarks that she is ''new on the scene'' or that she is making a ''rare appearance.''

About these ads

The wife of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has been making many appearances for a long time, she said during an interview in Washington as she took a few days to prepare for a speaking engagement at a Sunday church service in Baltimore.

Her presence is convincing proof that she has indeed been overlooked amid the glare of publicity surrounding her husband's run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mrs. Jackson may be diminutive in height (''I'm about five feet and leaning,'' she says), but she is no shrinking violet. Her eyes sparkle as she speaks with a low-pitched, animated voice, carefully formulating her answers and then pelting the interviewer with questions of her own.

Women can no longer have the luxury of isolation in any single area, whether it be children or homemaking or world peace, she says. ''All of these things are part of the whole,'' she intones. ''If you are to give life to children, you must be concerned about war and peace.''

The cadence almost exactly matches that of her Baptist minister husband's speaking style. But when asked whether she has been influenced by him, she shoots back with a broad smile, ''Or vice versa.''

Says Mrs. Jackson: ''I would say my husband and I are basically of the same mind.''

If her husband has famous rhetorical skills, she is no slouch behind a microphone. To a recent gathering on Capitol Hill, she delivered a stern rebuke of United States policy in Central America that went beyond the usual amenities of a candidate's wife.

''My heart is very heavy when I discover that my country has been participating in planting mines and explosives on the shores of Nicaragua,'' she told the reception for MADRE, a group that proclaims itself ''in solidarity'' with women from Central America.

About these ads

Mrs. Jackson made a tour of the region last year with a group of women leaders, protesting President Reagan's all-male Central America study commission. It was one of her many forays into the world's trouble spots.

In fact, a close family friend and supporter, Dr. Andrew L. Thomas, credits Mrs. Jackson for her husband's involvement in the Middle East.

''She was the one who opened doors to the Middle East,'' says Dr. Thomas, who is a Chicago neighbor, the family physician, and the volunteer health director for Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity), the social-action organization founded by Mr. Jackson.

''She was the first to meet with (Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser) Arafat,'' Thomas says, referring to Mrs. Jackson's trip in 1978 to see the effects of war on women and children in Lebanon. The next year Mr. and Mrs. Jackson traveled together to the Mideast, where he met with Arab leaders and made his first big splash on the international scene.

In a way, Mrs. Jackson's international interests are a throwback to her youth , for she says that if she ever had a career ambition, it was to work in the United Nations.

But such an undertaking must have seemed remote to the youthful Jacqueline Davis, born in relative poverty in Fort Pierce, Fla. One of six children, she later moved to Newport News, Va., where her memories include a strictly supervised social life within the confines of the Baptist Church and a mother who expected her to sew, crochet, and read, and always be home before dark.

''My mother felt that these were the things that a young lady ought to be involved in,'' she recalls. But she concedes that she also enjoyed sewing clothes, because ''it gave me an opportunity to be expressive,'' and because it was the only way her family could afford her college wardrobe.

Mrs. Jackson met her husband at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at Greensboro (A&T), where she was one of the most popular students on campus, a real ''catch,'' according to one longtime Jackson observer. ''I was just very vain, and perhaps in my youth I thought more of myself than most people did,'' she recalls. ''I liked me a lot, and I think I reflected that.''

She adds that, frankly, she was ''a little impressive'' on the A&T campus. As for her future husband, he caught many a woman's eye, because he was a transfer student and thus a newcomer, and he went on to become a football star. He soon married Jackie, who was 18, and a year later they had the first of five children, ending Mrs. Jackson's studies and launching her into the role she seems to relish - mothering.

''I'm a good parent, but I have good children,'' she reports.

''With my daughter, so often when we have had our disagreements, I have told her, 'This is the very first time I have been a parent, and I have had no rehearsals,' '' she recalls with a chuckle. ''I have had a very open kind of relationship with my kids.''

She reels out the list of her children: Santita, who at 20 is a student at Howard University; Jesse Louis Jackson Jr. and Jonathan Luther Jackson, who were born in quick succession and are both high school seniors; Yusef DuBois, 14; and Jacqueline, 8.

Most are attending public schools, although Jesse Jr. preferred St. Albans, an exclusive boys' school in Washington.

''It's always interesting that everybody singles the one out that's in private school,'' Mrs. Jackson says. But she also reports that the two middle boys once attended a Roman Catholic school in Rolling Prairie, Ind., partly ''because I am a Baptist (and) I wanted them also to understand the Catholic Church.''

Mrs. Jackson speaks of ''my'' children and of buying ''my'' house. Does this mean she makes the decisions regarding Jackson family life?

She pauses. ''I can't give you that secret,'' she says. ''I think my husband and I negotiate decisions.

''Sometimes he makes a decision. And sometimes I make it.''

But her husband offers no complaints, averring, ''You know, I prefer being with someone who will make a difference rather than sitting up holding hands (and) watching television.''

When he does arrive at their home in the Jackson Park Highlands district of half-century-old, spacious homes on one-acre lots in Chicago, she asks little of him, least of all for his help around the house.

''I don't want him to do anything,'' says Mrs. Jackson. ''I want him to sit there and let me look at him. And get off the phone.

''We don't wrestle over sameness of roles. I believe that respect (is based on) equality as a person, but not sameness of roles. I would never argue over dishes with my husband.''

Mrs. Jackson tells of long discussions before her husband decided to run. ''We went back and forth,'' she recalls. ''All I can remember saying to him was , 'Let's take the case to the people.' ''

But when Jackson finally made the decision, she found out through a phone call.He ''told me he was making an announcement'' on CBS's ''60 Minutes,'' she says.

Jackson recently faced severe criticism when a supporter, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, threatened a reporter who publicized derogatory comments that Jackson made privately about Jews. Several days after the Farrakhan flap, Mrs. Jackson still had not discussed the issue with her husband. But there was no hesitation as she gave her views.

''I think the request for us to denounce (Mr. Farrakhan) is unfair, because my husband's candidacy is in-clusive, not ex-clusive,'' she says, adding that ''Mr. Farrakhan has not physically violated anyone.''

Asked if she had ever detected anti-Semitism in her husband, she says emphatically that she has not and adds that the shoe is more often on the other foot, with Jewish groups opposing Jackson.

''I have detected a great deal of hostility when we went to the Middle East and returned,'' she says.

''We've been pursued across this country,'' she says of demonstrations by some Jewish organizations.

However, more pleasing thoughts occur as Mrs. Jackson contemplates the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco in July. Not only does it signal the end of the primary campaign, when she hopes to see more of her husband, but she expects the convention to be a family celebration.

Launching into a soliloquy, she previews the sounds of the Jackson household during the convention trip:

''I plan to take my entire family - the children and the arguments and the 'Where did you put this?' and 'I can't find this.' 'Take those blue jeans off. Put on a suit.' 'Where did you get that jacket?' 'Go get your hair cut.' 'Go back to the barbershop and get a hair-cut.'

''I'll be happy to just raise my voice,'' says Mrs. Jackson, who at 40 is already pining for grandchildren.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.