Jesse Jackson: Wall Street Built On 'African Burial Ground'

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:20pm EDT

New York ( - Jesse Jackson, in a speech on Wednesday, declared that New York's financial district was built on an "African burial ground" and achieved prosperity "on the backs of African people."

Jackson made his remarks at the 6th annual Rainbow/Push Wall Street Project fund-raiser in New York City.

Jackson also said discriminatory policies in 19th century America attracted immigrants who were "looking for 100 free acres, the right to kill an Indian, and free labor."

One of the panelists at the conference sharply disagreed with the Wall Street Project's racial agenda and questioned Jackson's intentions.

"On balance, this event does not advance the cause of civil rights," said panelist Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group opposed to affirmative action. "I think it's good for Reverend Jackson, but I don't think it's good for anyone else," Clegg added.

At a Diversity Forum panel discussion, Jackson slammed Wall Street for its historical links to the shipping industry and its role in the transportation of African slaves. "Wall Street is built on the backs of African people. It is an African burial ground down here. Wall Street was built on the shipping industry," Jackson said.

The 2003 Wall Street Project is being billed as "Equity for All: Establishing the Economic Agenda for Growth," and it runs from Jan. 14-17 in New York.

Jackson believes that government policies have caused African-Americans to miss out on numerous economic opportunities throughout America's history.

"At the beginning of the (20th) century, before we had the right to vote, all these [economic] territories were given away - automobile territories, fast food franchise territories, federal licenses, Homestead Act land grants, universities, all of this was given as largess," he said.

Jackson also claimed that the influx of immigrants to America during the late 19th century stemmed from government handouts. "People didn't come here looking for religious freedom; people came here looking for 100 free acres, the right to kill an Indian, and free labor."

Jackson kept his focus on New York's financial center to make a point about the need for slave reparations and affirmative action.

"In 1840, there was more Africans enslaved in New York than there was in Charleston South Carolina," he said. "So if we didn't know all our history, then the conclusion [that blacks deserve reparations] might seem unfair."

Jackson compared opposition to slave reparations to denying the holocaust.

"In Germany today, if you deny the holocaust, it is illegal, it is illegal, besides being immoral," Jackson explained.

"If slavery is a non-issue, if we are considered in the Constitution a non-issue, if the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was a non-issue, if the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments were a non-issue, then 1896 ("separate but equal" Plessy v. Ferguson ruling) didn't happen and 1954 (the ruling that segregation is unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education) wasn't quiet, then reparations is foolishness. It is unfair to white people," he said to laughter.

"But if those dates are real, if there was a time when the woman by virtue of being a woman couldn't vote... [then] you cannot give up the whereas and leap over to the therefore," Jackson said.

In an interview with following his speech, Jackson attacked the Bush administration's racial policies.

"There is no future in limiting the marketplace, that is why it is so strange that on the actual date of Martin Luther King's birth [Jan. 15], when the marketplace is looking for ways to open the door, President Bush is drawing up litigation to figure out ways to close the doors," Jackson said of the Bush administration's decision Wednesday to declare its opposition to the University of Michigan race-based admissions policies. The Supreme Court will decide the future of affirmative action programs in the pivotal case.

"There is no commitment to enforce laws of inclusion, no commitment to affirmative action. [Bush] doesn't believe in it. No commitment to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,) to class-action discrimination, gender- or race-based lawsuits," Jackson explained.

"The government has turned its back on us," he added.

Asked if the scheduled appearance by two Bush administration officials at his conference was an attempt by the administration to reach out to the minority community, Jackson was not convinced. Federal Communication Commission Chairman Michael Powell and Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission Roel Campos are scheduled to appear at a Wall Street Project awards luncheon on Thursday.

"There is no connection, because these are very qualified men. If affirmative action becomes illegal, then [their appearance] has no value. So these are very able men but they need civil rights law to enforce," Jackson said.

'Trent Lott card'

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), also a panelist at the Diversity Forum, brought up Sen. Trent Lott's name in a discussion about affirmative action.

"We in the Congressional Black Caucus are going to play our Trent Lott card, and we are in the process of asking, as a result of Trent Lott's appearance on BET," for his support in defending affirmative action.

Lott appeared on Black Entertainment Television and pledged support for affirmative action in an apparent attempt to defuse the fallout following his controversial remarks at former Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party in December.

Conyers agreed with Jackson's assessment of the Bush administration's racial policies. "They are cutting back on every front. We don't need affirmative action, that is what is coming out on Martin Luther King's birthday?" Conyers asked.

Conyers, who has been an annual sponsor of a slavery reparations bill in Congress for the past decade, spoke of the necessity for corporate reparations to African-Americans.

"The shipping companies were involved in the transportation of slaves. Might they not have a legal obligation going back 200 years? That is what I think," Conyers told

Conyers noted that lawsuits against the insurance industry for its alleged profiting from the slave trade were already proliferating. "No one is waiting for [attorney] Johnnie Cochran...people are suing the crap out of them right now," Conyers explained.

Conyers was also unimpressed with the scheduled appearance by two Bush administration officials."I don't think Michael Powell has ever seen a deregulation proposal that he doesn't like," Conyers lamented.

"[The Bush administration] is not reaching out on is abolishing affirmative action - that's not reaching out," he said.


One panelist at the diversity forum surprised the crowd with his blunt opposition to affirmative action. Roger Clegg said, "Discrimination is wrong whether the victim is white or black or the victim is male or female."

Clegg attacked the whole purpose of Jackson's Wall Street Project.

"Reverend Jackson is encouraging companies to engage in exactly the kind of discrimination that the civil rights movement opposed," Clegg told

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of organizations, and I don't think Jesse Jackson is the only example of this, but there are a lot of shakedowns that take place these days in the name of civil rights and diversity, and I think that's wrong," he added.

Clegg sharply disagreed with Jackson and Conyers on reparations.

"I think it's ridiculous to argue that Americans now should either receive a check or have to write a check based on their skin color," Clegg said.

Clegg said the two Bush administration officials scheduled to appear at Jackson's conference "should make clear in their remarks that the administration does not support discrimination based on race, ethnicity or gender."

Clegg believes Jackson's organization showed some courage in inviting him to speak. "They invited me, so I have to give them credit for that," he said.

Conyers went out of his way to praise Clegg's appearance on the panel.

"He is the most reasonable adversary I have ever met on the subject in my life. It's easy to dislike the people that are opposed to the positions that I raise," Conyers said.

Clegg, noting that he did not agree with the agenda of the Wall Street Project, said, "It wouldn't break my heart if next year I don't get invited because they are not having this event."

See Related Story:
Bush Administration 'Duped' By Jesse Jackson Event (6 Jan. 2003)

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