Jesse Jackson reportedly ripped presidential candidate Barack Obama for "acting like he's white," according to The State newspaper in South Carolina, but the civil rights leader says he doesn't recall making any such comment.
Jackson, who endorsed Obama for president in March, reportedly blasted the Illinois senator for failing to bring attention to the case of six black kids arrested on attempted murder charges in Jena, La.
He later told the newspaper that he did not remember making the remark, but State reporter Roddie Burris told FOX News that Jackson's "acting like he's white" comment came during a 45-minute, one-on-one interview Tuesday after an hour-long speech at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. Burris said he stands by his report.
On Wednesday, Jackson didn't refute that he made the comment to Burris, but warned that any efforts to drive a wedge between him and Obama will fail.
"I reaffirm my commitment to vote for Sen. Barack Obama," Jackson said in a statement. "I think Jena is another defining moment of the issue of race and the criminal justice system. This issue requires direct and bold leadership. I commend Sen. Obama for speaking out and demanding fairness on this defining issue. Any attempt to dilute my support for Sen. Obama will not succeed."
According to the article, Jackson called the incident in Jena "a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment," and said Obama's failure to seize the opportunity to highlight what he describes as a disparate approach to prosecuting whites and blacks demonstrates his weaknesses as a candidate.
“If I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” Jackson said at the historically black college.
Jackson and Al Sharpton, leaders in the civil rights movement, are rallying protesters to march in Jena on Thursday over the December arrest of the youths, now dubbed the "Jena 6."
The case began after interracial fighting broke out last school year when three white students responded to a request by a black student to open up access to a schoolyard tree — used as a meeting place for white students — by hanging three nooses around the tree. The white students were suspended.
The tree has since been cut down, but not before the six black students were charged with a racially-motivated assault on white student Justin Barker. Five of the students were charged as adults, the sixth as a juvenile.
The attempted murder charges have been reduced since arraignment, but one of the students charged as an adult, Mychal Bell, was convicted of second-degree battery, carrying up to 15 years in prison.
Bell has since had his conviction successfully appealed on grounds he shouldn't have been tried as an adult, but he remains in jail with his co-defendants as the prosecution files its own appeal.
The march is aimed at demonstrating support for Bell, who was 16 at the time of the attack, and the other defendants.
During the speech, Jackson said his home state senator must be bolder than his opponent, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, if he wants to win South Carolina, where he's running second to Clinton in primary polls. Jackson, who ran for president in 1984 and 1988, is the only African-American ever to carry South Carolina in a primary election.
Obama responded to questions about the Jackson comment by noting that he has been advised all along on the Jena 6 issue by Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
"Outrage over an injustice like the Jena 6 isn't a matter of black and white. It's a matter of right and wrong. We should stand as one nation in opposition to this and any injustice," he said. "My statements on Jena 6 were carefully thought out with input and support from one of my National Campaign Chairmen, U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr."
Obama also hasn't been silent on the issue, last week calling on the Louisiana local district attorney to drop the excessive charges.
“When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it’s a tragedy,” the statement reads. “It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions.”
Obama issued another statement the following day saying he was pleased the court overturned the aggravated battery charge.
"I hope that today's decision will lead the prosecutor to reconsider the excessive charges brought against all the teenagers in this case. And I hope that the judicial process will move deliberately to ensure that all of the defendants will receive a fair trial and equal justice under the law," he said.
For her part, Clinton told Sharpton on his radio program Wednesday that the Jena case is evidence of ongoing racial inequality in America.
"People need to understand that we cannot let this kind of inequality and injustice happen anywhere in America," she said. "It's a real wake-up call for everybody because it just reminds us that we've got a lot of work to do."
The State reported that Jackson told the 500 to 600 students attending his speech that voting remained their strongest way to change the "criminal injustice" occurring in the disproportionate charges.
“Your fight is not about ropes, it’s about hope,” he said.
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.