Jesse Jackson speaks on segregation in University of Alabama greek system, suggests picketing sorority houses
By Stephen Dethrage
on September 14, 2013 at 10:20 PM, updated September 15, 2013 at 12:52 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama –The Rev. Jesse Jackson Saturday compared the public outrage following accusations of racism in some University of Alabama sororities to the civil rights movement that swept through the state and nation 50 years ago.
Speaking mostly to members of the university’s student newspaper, the Crimson White, Jackson addressed allegations of advisers and alumnae in some sororities blocking black women from being recruited because of theirrace.
The CW broke the story of the alleged segregation Wednesday and has since drawn nationwide attention to Tuscaloosa as national media outlets including CNN and the New York Times report on the issue.
"Gender or racial segregation is abhorrent to an intelligent, civilized people," Jackson said. "You might take a sorority and start picketing there."
Jackson said that kind of sustained effort could keep the issue at the center of the public attention and help push toward change. It might convince a sorority member who disagreed with the racial make-up of her sisters to leave her chapter, he said, and it might draw more protesters and picketers until the cause of Greek desegregation became too big to ignore.
He used the university's football team, the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide, to point out the absurdity of systemic segregation. Head Coach Nick Saban, Jackson said, would never limit his recruiting capabilities to only white players. It would hinder his ability to have the most talented team possible
In the same way, Jackson said, sororities that are traditionally white-only hurt themselves by prohibiting qualified women from joining their ranks. It also keeps their members from cultural exposure in a richly diverse world.
"When they leave here, they're not going into an all-white world," Jackson said.
Jackson said the issue was only one part of a war being waged to shape Alabama's identity, as progressive minds work to overcome the state's shortcomings past and present. He said the state would have to decide which way they would be looking as they move into the future—in the rear-view mirror at Alabama's racially charged past or through the windshield at inclusivity and progressive thought.
In the end, Jackson said, either a tradition that he called abhorrent will prevail or progress will. Jackson said it fell to the young generation to change the status quo in the same way that Jackson's generation, the generation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Birmingham's Fred Shuttlesworth, fought for change 50 years ago.
"What's at stake here is your future, not the traditions of their past," Jackson said.