WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday night he doubted a flare-up over a remark attributed to him about White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) "acting like he's white" would harm the campaign. He called discussions about the blackness or whiteness of the biracial Obama "absurd."
Jackson, who has endorsed Obama, on Tuesday was conducting a voter registration drive in South Carolina, a crucial early primary state with a substantial African-American vote. A big black voter turnout would help Obama.
The Wednesday edition of the State, a South Carolina newspaper, said that Tuesday, "Jackson sharply criticized presidential hopeful and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for "acting like he's white" in what Jackson said has been a tepid response to the arrest of six black juveniles on attempted-murder charges in Jena, La."
Jackson said he did not recall making the racially charged remark.
Steve Brook, deputy managing editor of the State, said, "We stand by our story." The disputed comment was made after a speech and was not taped.
"I don't associate myself with that statement, that's not my position," Jackson said. "... I'm dumbfounded by this story. ... Black enough, white enough, this argument is an absurd one." Obama, he said, "does not have to jump through hoops to prove his ethnicity.''
Jackson said in a statement that while Obama has "remarkably transcended race," the "impact of Katrina and Jena makes America's unresolved moral dilemma of race unavoidable."
The Obama campaign jumped into damage-control mode Wednesday, sending out memos to reporters and South Carolina elected officials and political activists detailing statements Obama has made supporting the "Jena 6," the latest chapter in the nation's ongoing struggle with racial equality.
Jackson told the Sun-Times that Obama campaign adviser Ertharin Cousin, aware of the pending story, called him Tuesday night seeking "clarity." Jackson sent out a statement reaffirming his support for Obama.
Obama issued a statement Wednesday saying, "Outrage over an injustice like the Jena 6 isn't a matter of black and white. It's a matter of right and wrong." Obama added he had been consulting with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), one of his national campaign chairmen, on how he should be framing his comments about the Jena 6.
Jackson spoke with the Sun-Times as he was leaving South Carolina, where he was organizing under the banner of the Rainbow/PUSH organization he founded, en route to Jena for a demonstration today in support of the black teens.
He was critical of Democrats in general for not speaking out louder in defense of the Jena 6. "At least Barack issued a statement," Jackson said. He said Democrats -- not naming any names -- should "at least call for hearings. Whether it's the Jena 6 or Katrina, it is just too obvious to ignore."
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