The Rev. Jesse Jackson is bringing his fight for equal opportunity to some of world's biggest companies.
The 68-year-old civil right leader, who was in Chattanooga last year to appeal to Volkswagen to ensure adequate minority hiring, contracting and investment, will bring a similar message to AT&T today during the phone giant's annual meeting in Chattanooga.
"We're now in the next phase of our struggle to make this a more perfect union," Mr. Jackson told several hundred supporters Thursday night during an appearance at the Olivet Baptist Church in Chattanooga.
After ending slavery and legalized segregation and then gaining the right to vote and electing America's first black president, the civil rights struggle is shifting from the courtroom and the ballot box to the board room and the marketplace, Mr. Jackson said.
"Unless you have access to capital, industry, technology and broadband, there is no equality," he said. "Why do we go to AT&T's meeting? Because that is where the jobs are."
Mr. Jackson, a preacher turned politician who founded the National Rainbow Coalition more than 25 years ago in Chicago, said minorities "have been locked out of the private sector" and need to build partnerships that are mutually beneficial to corporations and their minority customers and investors. He urged minorities to buy stock in the 25 biggest publicly traded companies operating in Chattanooga and go to their annual meetings to ask for a bigger share of jobs and contracts for marketing, legal work, supplies and professional services.
Mr. Jackson took the podium at the annual shareholders meeting of the Bank of America on Tuesday to ask company CEO Brian Moynihan to work to reduce foreclosures and diversify its work force. He questioned the priority of bailing out wrongful actions of bankers he called "banksters" while having to cut investments in education and mass transit.
"Something is wrong with our priorities,' Mr. Jackson said. "Money went from Washington to Wall Street and now it's going from Wall Street back to Washington. But it never made it to our neighborhoods."
But Mr. Jackson said low-income Americans need to study and prepare for new opportunities. He is scheduled today to stress the importance of working for excellence in an appearance before students at Howard School for Academics and Technology -- a school that defeated his own high school football team from Greenville, S.C., when they played in the 1950s.
Mr. Jackson, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in both 1984 and 1988, was praised Thursday night by a variety of Democratic politicians. State Rep. Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga, presented a legislative resolution from her colleagues in Nashville recognizing Mr. Jackson as "an American icon" and "the conscience of our country."
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