By Joseph Abrams, ,
Published May 16, 2015
It's another case of the dueling reverends.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton have converged on Michael Jackson's family since the King of Pop's sudden death last Thursday, acting as semi-official spokesmen and advisers.
Now the two preachers — who have spent decades jockeying for the unofficial title of America's leading black activist — appear to be auditioning for a role in Michael Jackson's final act: his funeral.
It remains unclear just what they are hoping to do for the clan in mourning as they offer their services to Michael Jackson's family, but both have been vying for a prominent position.
Jesse Jackson paid a condolence call Friday and announced the next day that the Jackson family wanted a second autopsy for Michael, who died last week at the age of 50. Michael's death was "abnormal," he said, putting pressure on the doctor who was by Jackson's side as he passed away. "We don't know what happened."
Sharpton, in turn, led a press conference Monday outside the Jackson family compound in Encino detailing his plan to lead a full-day memorial at Harlem's Apollo Theater on Tuesday.
The two have gone on television separately to speak for the family, but neither has yet been invited to preside over Michael's funeral, a coveted moment in the spotlight that both have sought and secured for years at several memorial services.
Jesse Jackson has delivered rites for prominent black figures ranging from jazz great Miles Davis to the slain family of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson. Sharpton led the elaborate 2006 memorial for his mentor, James Brown, another legendary entertainer.
In recent years, they have used the same grandstands, including the funeral of Coretta Scott King, as prominent public forums. Both Sharpton and Jackson — who was a top lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King's — blasted President Bush during the service and made politically charged statements.
They have also launched themselves into racially charged scraps, like the cases involving the black teenagers known as the Jena Six, and the black exotic dancer who accused — wrongly, it turned out — three white players on the Duke lacrosse team of raping her.
"They don't seem to work together, they just always seem to be in the same place," said Reed Dickens, founder of Outside Eyes, a California-based communications and crisis-management firm.
They have a lot in common — both are fiery Baptist ministers; both are longtime, prominent civil rights activists; both have run for president — and both have been accused of embracing causes in order to promote themselves.
Representatives for Jackson and Sharpton did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
In their latest cause, it's unclear whether either of them has the full embrace of the family. A lawyer for the Jacksons did not respond to inquiries asking whether either is operating with the full faith of the Jackson clan.
Sharpton held his press conference alongside Michael's father, Joe Jackson. But Michael's mother, Katherine — who was closer to the star and is regarded as the heart of the family — left the scene just as Sharpton was arriving, sending an unclear signal to the man who calls himself an old family friend. Joe Jackson is believed to have been written out of his son's will.
Some media experts said the two reverends appear to be using this period of mourning to soak up Michael Jackson's last limelight.
"I think it's just an opportunity to be relevant in a national dialogue in a monumental moment," said Dickens, a former White House spokesman.
"I think they're sincerely interested in helping the family, but I also think that it's also not coincidence that they wind up right smack-dab in the middle of every media crisis," he said.
Since Jackson's death on Thursday, dozens of people have emerged from the woodwork to help "define" his legacy, said Professor Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
"There's a sense that Michael Jackson's legacy is both fraught with financial possibilities ... but also fraught with the kind of symbolic value that what he stood for carries, and I think there's an awful lot of people who would like to frame and shape that as best they could," Thompson told FOXNews.com.
Thompson said he was not surprised to see Jackson and Sharpton emerge to help define Jackson's legacy, which would be of great import to black Americans in particular.
"He certainly does play a major part in the role of African-Americans in American popular culture," Thompson said. "I'm not surprised that civil rights leaders would be interested in how the legacy of this star is framed."