DETROIT (AP) _ The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has fought for a century to bring equal and civil rights to blacks, but civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson believes the organization must now fight to help the troubled U.S. economy and struggling domestic auto industry.
“We must now save the entire industry from itself,'' Jackson said as part of the keynote address Sunday night at the Detroit NAACP's 54th Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner at Cobo Center.
The city's population is more than 80 percent black. Detroit's black residential base began swelling decades ago as blacks from the south moved north to find jobs in manufacturing and in the auto industry, still the lifeblood of the city.
Those jobs must be saved, Jackson said in his 25-minute speech.
“The cause of the workers is a moral cause,'' he said. “It's time for a righteous rebellion, civil disobedience.''
The civil rights activist and Operation PUSH founder had said earlier at a media gathering that the employment picture in Detroit, among the cities hardest hit by withering economy, has shifted from “the Big Three to gambling casinos.''
“Detroit is not just your city,'' Jackson later told the crowd during his speech. “It is the soul of industrial America.
“We must fight back to save GM, Ford and Chrysler. That's our lifeline.''
Chrysler, the nation's third-largest automaker behind General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., filed for bankruptcy protection last Thursday after months of surviving on government loans. All three car companies have laid off thousands of workers and closed a number of factories in the Detroit area and across the country.
Detroit has mirrored their failures. The city's poverty and unemployment are among the highest in the country, as is its home foreclosure rate.
Jackson also criticized federal bailouts to banks, who in turn gave million-dollar bonuses to executives while urban neighborhoods continue to suffer and jobs are being lost.
Singer Aretha Franklin, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Detroit pastor the Rev. Edwin Rowe also were honored for contributions to the civil rights movement.
Pictured above is the Rev. Jesse Jackson.