DETROIT — Pushing for Blacks to have equal access to jobs has been part of the NAACP’s mission for much of the civil rights organization’s 100-year history.
DETROIT — Pushing for Blacks to have equal access to jobs has been part of the NAACP’s mission for much of the civil rights organization’s 100-year history. The Rev. Jesse Jackson believes fighting to save jobs — and Detroit’s struggling car makers — should be part of the NAACP’s newest mandate. Much progress has been made in business, education and politics with the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first Black president, but the current battle is with the troubled U.S. economy, Jackson said Sunday evening during his 25-minute keynote address at the Detroit NAACP’s 54th Fight for Freedom Fund dinner at Cobo Center. "We are not there yet," the civil rights activist and Operation PUSH founder said. "We defeated Jim Crow. Women and people of color have the right to vote, workers a right to organize. "There is a sense of joy because it’s high noon in our politics, but it’s midnight in our economy. We cannot have joy while Chrysler is in bankruptcy and GM is in line." Detroit is ground zero for the U.S. automotive crisis, with thousands of city residents dependent on General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, and their suppliers. A number of factories in the Detroit area and across the country have been closed with thousands of jobs already lost as the companies crawl through painful restructuring. Chrysler, the nation’s third-largest automaker behind GM and Ford, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Thursday after months of surviving on government loans. Detroit has mirrored their failures. The city’s poverty and unemployment are among the highest in the country, as is its home foreclosure rate. The city’s population is more than 80 percent Black. Detroit’s Black residential base began swelling decades ago as Blacks from the south moved north to find jobs in manufacturing and in the auto industry. Those jobs must be saved, Jackson said. "Detroit is not just your city," Jackson told the crowd. "It is the soul of industrial America. We must fight back to save GM, Ford and Chrysler. That’s our lifeline. It’s time for a righteous rebellion, civil disobedience." Jackson also criticized federal bailouts to banks that in turn have given million-dollar bonuses to executives while urban neighborhoods continue to suffer and jobs are being lost. His message came at the right time, said 27-year-old Jonathan Guest of Detroit. "We need to stand behind them and fight for them," Guest said of the auto industry and its workers. The industry’s crisis has affected others outside the car companies, said Doris Jordan-Smith of Detroit. The 65-year-old works in marketing for an insurance company. "We fought to get those jobs. We’ve got to fight to keep them," she said. Detroit NAACP president Wendell Anthony attributed the rise of the Black middle class to the auto industry, which was honored at the dinner. "Detroit is still the motor city capitol of the world," Anthony said. "Standards have been set, and innovations have been met." The United Auto Workers union and its president Ron Gettelfinger also were honored. Gettelfinger thanked the NAACP for its support for America’s auto workers. GM Chief Executive Fritz Henderson spoke on behalf of GM, Ford and Chrysler. "We recognize that most of us derived our livelihood from the auto industry, directly or indirectly," Henderson said. "We’re all in this together." Singer Aretha Franklin, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Detroit pastor the Rev. Edwin Rowe also were honored for contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. The Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Sunday night’s event is its largest annual fundraiser and draws 10,000 people each year. Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., gave the keynote speech last year. Ex-President Bill Clinton spoke in 2007. Obama also gave the keynote as an Illinois U.S. senator. A videotaped message from Obama thanking the NAACP was played. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.