Randolph J. Haspel
August 30, 2007
Reverend Jesse L. Jackson
Founder: Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
Dear Reverend Jackson,
I write as a long time supporter, contributor, and voter to both your presidential races. I have heard you speak in Memphis and Nashville, and I have been inspired while attending the early PUSH For Excellence Basketball games you brought to Memphis, and standing in a crowd of motivated young people shouting “I am somebody.” I believe in your concept of a Rainbow Coalition and the need for the “common ground” of which you so eloquently speak. Unfortunately, not all the people who claim to work in your name believe the same.
Rev. LaSimba Gray, of New Sardis Baptist Church, who claims to be the president of the Memphis chapter of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, has established a group within the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association, to oppose and smear District 9 Rep. Steve Cohen, for his support for the same federal hate crimes bill that was endorsed by your own organization. Rev. Gray has joined in an unholy alliance with the James Dobsons and Donald Wildmons of this world, along with a cadre of conservative Evangelical Christian ministers, in repeating the lie that the passage of this bill will restrict their right to preach against homosexuality from the pulpit. Though the ministers have been repeatedly assured that the hate crimes bill does not affect freedom of speech, they are using the issue to smear the congressman in a Bush-like, pre-emptive strike before the 2008 elections.
Rep. Cohen is the legitimately elected, true Democrat from the district seat held by the Ford family for thirty years. Rev. Gray supported the eminently unqualified Jake Ford, who ran against Cohen as an independent. Even though Rep. Cohen has won praise for his great start in Congress from everyone from John Conyers to Bill Clinton, Rev. Gray has been lamenting the loss of the District’s seat to a white man, regardless of Cohen’s record or accomplishments. The Evangelical preachers say they are incensed that gays might receive special status, and in the original letter sent to Cohen by Baptist ministers, co-signed by Rev. Gray, they demanded that Cohen protect their “Christian values” so many times, the only thing that was missing was a salutation reading, “Dear Jew.” Rev. Gray has already announced his support for Nikki Tinker, a very attractive candidate in the mold of Joe Lieberman and Harold Ford, Jr., only with more corporate backing, when Cohen is the one who’s unafraid to say he is a Liberal and votes in the best interests of the community. In the first six months, Cohen has passed legislation to name a federal building after Judge Odell Horton, he has proposed an official apology for slavery be declared in Congress, and he serves with distinction on the House Judiciary Committee.
When Rep. Cohen met with a group of Baptist ministers to clarify the hate crimes bill, he was met with derision and scorn, not because of his support for the legislation, but because he is a white man who was democratically elected in a majority black district. The newspaper reported that in a rowdy question and answer session, Cohen was repeatedly accused of being unable to represent the district because of his race. Rev Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church was quoted as saying, “He’s not black and he can’t represent me, that’s just the bottom line.” Imagine those words transposed into the mouth of a white preacher speaking of a black candidate. Even you, Rev. Jackson, would say that man was a consummate racist.
This hate campaign against the Jewish congressman is taking place in your name, Rev. Jackson, with the imprimatur of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in the person of Rev. LaSimba Gray. Rev. Gray, and a small group of preachers within the Baptist organization, are opposing the hate crimes legislation that would attempt to stop racially motivated slayings like that of James Byrd in Texas. They are using your organization that preaches “common ground,” to attack and falsely vilify a Congressman, sufficiently enough for the leaders of the Ministerial group to issue a letter of apology. I know these are not the principles upon which the Rainbow PUSH Coalition was founded, but we need to hear from you Rev. Jackson. We need for you to repudiate these repugnant tactics and support Rep. Steve Cohen, one of the truly liberal Democrats in the Congress. The people of Memphis are bone weary of racist politics, Rev. Jackson. You may not be able to end it all, but you could help put a stop to this particularly ugly incident. I implore you to help.
Randolph J. Haspel