Commentary: Jesse Jackson still seeks the spotlight

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to the media outside the Staples Center before the Michael Jackson memorial in Los Angeles, Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to the media outside the Staples Center before the Michael Jackson memorial in Los Angeles, Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles) ASSOCIATED PRESS

There are two places you don't want to be if you value your safety.

One is laid up in a trailer with Sweet Thang watching "Green Acres" reruns when a tornado strikes.

The other is standing between the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a hot microphone when a black celebrity dies.

Just think of a famous black person who has died within the past 30 years. Now try to picture Jesse not at the funeral.

You can bet your last copy of "Thriller" that when Michael Jackson is laid to rest today, Jesse will be there.

The reverend has become a latter-day Zelig, the Woody Allen character who turned up everywhere throughout history. The tragic part is that like Zelig, too often he's just part of the backdrop.

It didn't start out that way. The Rev. Jackson could have been one of the great leaders of our time, could have inspired – heck, did inspire – millions.

Now, though, he seems more interested in the trappings of being the HBIC – Head Brother in Charge – than with actually putting in the time and energy required to deserve that appellation.

In Barbara Reynolds' biography "Jesse Jackson: The Man, the Myth, the Movement," several people who were at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, intimated that Jackson smeared some of Dr. King's blood on his sweater after the body was removed and appeared on television the next day claiming King had died in his arms.

More recently, after basketball star Michael Jordan's father was killed and his body cremated, Jackson leaped in to claim – with no evidence – that it was a coverup of a mob hit or something equally sinister. Turned out the quick disposal of James Jordan's body had more to do with the coroner mistakenly thinking he was just another unlamented poor black man – a sinister assumption in its own right – than a coverup.

There was no way Jesse or the Rev. Al Sharpton could let the circus that has become Michael Jackson's death pass them by. Both have gotten more airtime than Tito.

I marveled as de facto family spokesman Jesse bogarted himself into this family tragedy, challenging Michael's doctor on his "bizarre behavior."

Isn't it inspiring how Jesse is willing to rush into the breach at great personal sacrifice to speak up for a poor family that has no access to or savvy with the media? Really, without Jesse, how would we even know Michael died?

I'll bet that if he looked, Jesse could find some equally tragically dead young black man whose death deserves attention and illumination. Jesse could also be the man to address and help rectify the misguided examples of manhood with which too many young black boys grow up. If, that is, he could just get out from in front of the cameras long enough.

When Michael Jackson sang "I'll Be There," he wasn't talking about Jesse and his ghoulish propensity for funerals. I am, though. Here is my version of "I'll Be There" as sung by the Rev. Jackson. Maestro, hit it:

You and I must make a pact

"Larry King Live," please call me back.

Where there's a camera

I'll be there...

I'll give out my cell to you

I'll grant you an interview.

Just call my name

I'll be there.

(Just look over your shoulder, Anderson Cooper.) Ooh ooh ooh ooh.