David Masciotra. Foreword by Michael Eric Dyson.
London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 198 pp., $27.
This time-shifting mini-biographical tribute to Jesse Jackson Sr. reminds us why he is so exasperating and inspiring to so many. In thematic chapters, Masciotra goes back and forth from the 1960s to 2020, reminding the audience that knows (50-plus) and the audience that doesn’t (under 50) that he’s been here all along, connecting the eras of Martin Luther King to Black Lives Matter, from Aretha Franklin to Megan Thee Stallion. Displaying a good understanding of how hegemonic mass media works, the author does an excellent job showing and explaining why the uncontrollable, indefatigable, undefeatable Jackson consistently doesn’t fit the MSM program and perhaps only will after he transforms into a series of sometimes-accessed, highly-edited film and video clips. Jackson’s service to humanity, his always-public witness to injustice and his full membership in 20th century and 21st century public memory are all unapparelled among the currently living, regardless of motivation or rumor of motivation. He is the ultimate insider-outsider and the remarkable half-century of history of world human rights struggle he brings to the table cannot be duplicated by this current army of Millennial and post-Millennial Ivy League-educated “social justice activists,” no matter how concerned and committed they want to be. They will never have Jackson’s nerve because that only comes through walking through America’s fire repeatedly and nakedly, of being unafraid to publicly be who you really are, mistakes and all, regardless of who publicly hates you and for how long. Masciotra shows the Rainbow/PUSH founder constantly at a table prepared for him in the presence of his enemies. The fact that he often seems to be the agenda he is looking for at any table doesn’t seem so negative here in his Winter, especially after you total up the psychological, spiritual and social cost, the steep price of destiny’s frequent-flyer ticket. He breathes, so he leads until he leaves.
A very fine article I found reminded me of the type of serious longform writing and print-era that, once I discovered it, shaped and fascinated me as a young newspaper reporter. The Village Voice and its crew, of which Stanley Crouch was a part, were in this great, fascinating NYC-centric, newsstand literary universe.
I was definitely not a fan of the content, philosophy or personal style of Crouch (who had left The Voice when I began to read it), but I was a fan of the idea of him. This act of remembering–published in one of the remaining traditional 20-centuryish places left for this kind of writing–brought back memories of a time long gone: of picking up The Voice at Newark Penn Station while on the way to or back from Harlem on an early 1990s Friday, all the while wondering what was possible for me and writing.
Later in the 1990s, embedded in graduate school, I was even more obsessed with The Writers’ Life. For example, I actually bought a transcript and video of the below because I wanted to absorb this discussion. (Not surprisingly, these writers–who were actually post-World-War-II-nouns, who wrote in the mid-20th century for a living–didn’t see that nonfiction and fiction were going to move en masse to the academy.) I succeeded: this 23-year-old talk has been almost completely memorized over the years and, as a result, it serves as part of my internal writing clinic when/as I write.