WASHINGTON – Black conservatives and other watchdog groups say they pressured NASCAR (search) to cut off its annual gifts to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow/Push Coalition (search) because they don’t want the popular motor sports giant to be the victim of a race-based shakedown racket.
And these active critics of the perennial civil rights leader say they plan to take their fight to every corporation that has been intimidated into giving money to Jackson’s non-profits in exchange for his blessing.
“We are putting out notice to these companies that as long as they give in to the white fear, it will only mean their destruction,” said the Rev. Jesse Peterson, the founder of BOND, or Brotherhood of the New Destiny (search), a Los Angeles-based religious organization that provides counseling services and oversees a home for inner-city boys.
A fervent critic of Jackson, Peterson, who is black, said reports of NASCAR's pulling its support for the Rainbow/Push Coalition is the first crack in Jackson’s non-profit empire, which operates on millions of dollars in corporate donations each year.
Companies that have given big dollars to Jackson's Wall Street Project include Citigroup, Coca-Cola, AT&T, General Motors, IBM and Boeing.
Lately, according to officials, Jackson has been working double-time to promote racial diversity in motor sports, which Rainbow/Push board member Bill Shack called at the group's annual conference in June the “last bastion of white supremacy in a particular sport.”
While sources say the comments weren’t directed specifically toward NASCAR -- which has reportedly contributed $250,000 to Rainbow/Push in the last three years -- critics weren’t surprised when a USA Today report on July 29 quoted a NASCAR official saying it would no longer fund Jackson's projects.
“After [NASCAR] gave $250,000, instituting numerous programs to try and correct perceived racism and animosity towards African Americans, this was not the way to keep the relationship going,” said David Almasi, director of Project 21 (search), a network of black conservatives who have made a mission of attacking Rainbow/Push in the last several months.
Officials from NASCAR did not return phone calls to their Daytona, Fla., offices. Meanwhile, Charles Farrell, director of Rainbow Sports, a division of Rainbow/Push charged with promoting diversity in major league sports, denied that NASCAR was withholding its annual contribution.
“There is nothing that has indicated to us that NASCAR is changing its status with us whatsoever,” he told Foxnews.com, calling the motor sports organization “a generous sponsor in previous years of our national conference.
“We look forward to continuing the relationship we have and working more closely with NASCAR on diversity issues,” he said.
But Almasi and other Jackson watchdogs said an anti-Rainbow/Push drumbeat was touched off in April beginning with an article written for Capital Research Center’s Organizational Trends magazine. Writer Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal Policy Center, said that Jackson has inserted himself into NASCAR racing, just as he has done the National Football League, Major League Baseball and golf.
“Mainly he has focused his attacks on the low numbers of blacks in coaching and management positions on professional sports teams and college football, blaming the situation on ‘a culture driven by white supremacists.’”
NASCAR, with its virtually non-existent black drivers in the top-tier racing teams, would appear a prime target. In 2001, Jackson said he helped to broker a deal on the new Dr. Pepper-sponsored “black“ racing team, but critics say he has done nothing to sponsor other drivers with the millions it costs to field a car in NASCAR.
Farrell said Rainbow Sports has been actively involved beyond the Dr. Pepper racing team, citing work with minority drivers in Championship Auto Racing Teams, the National Hot Rod Association, motor sports apparel and help in forming a new black motorcycle-racing program.
“There are many people who believe that [motor sports] is a whites-only sport -- we don’t think it is, or should be -- but we are pressing for more diversity,” he said.
For its part, NASCAR has instituted a number of programs to draw minority fans into the fold, as well as encourage younger minorities to get interested in the sport. The Flaherty article, “Jesse Jackson Chases After NASCAR,” said NASCAR began giving money to Jackson “to further insulate itself from charges of discrimination.”
Terry Scanlon, publisher of Organizational Trends, said the article drew attention, and soon NASCAR was receiving letters and phone calls from racing fans who did not want to see the organization cave in to Jackson.
“They know it’s a pay-off, essentially [NASCAR is] paying him protection money,” said Scanlon.
Jackson’s supporters dismiss these claims out of hand. “These are idle charges. What does he do with the money? Lots of things,” said Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, and a contemporary of Jackson.
Balking at the word “shakedown,” Walters said, "This goes all the way back to the civil rights movement -- it’s an exchange we are talking about. You invest in our community and we will continue to see you as a partner.
“Martin Luther King would have done the same thing,” he said.
Peterson calls Jackson's efforts a fear tactic that feeds on white guilt.
“Most of black Americans have been taught generation through generation that the white man is their enemy and they see Jesse Jackson going after these corporations and they see it as payback,” he said. “At some point white Americans, corporations, will have to say 'no more.'”