Thursday, April 19, 2007

Flashback: Discussing and Debating in the PUSH Negotiations.


[More than 50 years of politics remembered for my kids and grandchildren].

Reverend George Edwin Riddick (who died a number of years ago, sadly), was a real, honest-to-God man of the cloth, totally unlike his chest-beating, strutting boss, the Sultan of Pout, the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. A humble, self-effacing tall, heavy man who presided at PUSH before the boss-man would come on stage, like a warm-up…where he was misused since his theology was stratospheric compared to Jackson’s…whenever we convened in our negotiations over lunch…one time downtown in my neighborhood where I bought…one time on the South Side in his neighborhood, where he bought…he would always say grace before meals with such a quiet whisper that no one knew we prayed: such was his wish for low profile.

We got along amazingly well because there were no drums to beat or postures to affect. We reviewed Quaker’s philanthropy and agreed it could voluntarily…by itself…support more diversified causes. We looked at Quaker’s employment and found that the company had made amazing progress in a few years—with a lot more to go in the upper echelons assuredly but that progress was progress. I found in him a saintly man of great realism. He knew that the African American community was disadvantaged and as result, often hires for top echelon positions could be unrealistic. Instead, we talked about training programs and programs instituted especially among the young to make them more familiar with the demands of white collar and clerical opportunities—such as punctuality, proper use of English, good social manners, cleanliness, good attitudes. It was a joy to work with him. We didn’t have one disagreement in the year that we worked together.

He knew what my restrictions were…on Aunt Jemima and the lack of a formal covenant…and endeavored to take that back to his leadership. I knew what his restrictions were…that there had to be a meeting with Jesse Jackson and the ministerial alliance present to certify good faith. We went back often to our leadership and conferred almost daily on the phone. We got to know each other well—our families, our worries, our concerns. I found in him a man roughly comparable to Jim Farmer whom I knew well from Washington…the same Farmer who had antedated Martin Luther King and who worked with King…roughly comparable, as well, to Andrew Young whom I was to know much better later.

I remember there was only one slight pressure—and then it was so gentlemanly that while I turned it down, I worried that it might cause problems for him. It worked this way.

One lunch he mentioned that he had heard that we were in the business of funding and even financing some public television programs. I said yes, our president, Ken Mason…who was greatly interested in encouraging more quality television and fighting the kind of no-brain TV that debased the public taste…had us finance a PBS special.that dealt with the need to curtail unwarranted hunting excursions in Africa and the polar region which needlessly killed near-extinct wildlife. It was called “Say Goodbye”…say goodbye to some species of wildlife that would be gone forever due to carelessness of big game hunting enthusiasts.

He asked delicately: “Are you interested, possibly, in funding a program featuring, let us say, a black artist—say a black singer or musician?”

I said that certainly could be a possibility although that was not my job.

As he prodded his food with his fork while looking down at his plate:

“Is it within the realm of possibility that you could make a recommendation even though it is understood that this would not be in your province?”

I dawdled over the answer. This approach was rather direct and not usually in keeping with his reserve and punctilious courtesy.

It certainly could do not harm although such a decision would naturally have to involve certain artistic standards which should be weighed against other alternatives of nonprofit funding.

“Would you be adverse to…let us say…”

I waited for a very long sentence to unwind itself…

“…balancing good taste with artistic excellence which would be mandatory of course…”


“…would it be within the province of--.”

Reverend Ed, do me a favor and get to the question, would you please?

“Yes. Fund a television program featuring the soloist Nancy Wilson?”

In the early 1970s, Nancy Wilson, then in her middle `30s, was at the height of her career. A beauteous woman, with a silky voice, she was regularly at the top of the charts—first with Cannonball Adderley with whom she scored her first big hit, “Save Your Love for Me” after which she became, by the mid-1960s, Capitol records’ best selling artists, second only to the Beatles. Clearly, she was not an artist who needed any push from us. In 1964 she won a Grammy for “How Glad I Am” and an Emmy for her 1967-68 NBC-TV series “The Nancy Wilson Show,” plus guest appearances with Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett and Dean Martin.

I see no reason except that perhaps…and I don’t know this until I check…it may not be our thing to do singers. More likely, documentaries—but then I would certainly find out. It does seem to me that Nancy Wilson is such an established singer that--.

“I understand—or let me put it this way—I understand she is, er, between engagements. You know how that goes.”

Of course.

“And,” he resumed toying with his food, “there are some who are interested in the possibility of her returning to the format where she has a regular program.”

I see.

He looked me squarely in my eyes: “Only if you see a value in it.”

I understand.

The subject never came up again—by either one of us.

We agreed on fundamental things. Quaker certainly should have a more diversified board of directors—although he made no recommendations and resisted suggestions. All sorts of minor suggestions as we dilly-dallied around the big issue.

Finally, about one year into the negotiations, we met at “Army & Lou’s” on the South Side and he said, “you know—I think we have gone as far as we can go and have solidified many agreements. There is only one remaining. One which I do not believe is as important as do others. But it is one which you will have to face. That is `Aunt Jemima.’”

I said: I understand.

When we met the following week, I said: On the “Aunt Jemima” issue. How do you believe we should proceed?

“Frankly, I am not as concerned about it as are others”—not stipulating who the others were. “But I have visited with them and they still believe that without a doubt it is of major importance. I suggest—and I suggested to them—that you make the representation of your case directly to them, to Reverend Jackson to his board of ministers who are interested in this issue—far more than I am.”


“With your permission, I’ll arrange a meeting for you and Reverend Jackson and them at the headquarters. Is that all right?”

Absolutely, Reverend Ed.

“Very well, then. I want you to know I think we have made great progress. I always believe in this kind of negotiation not the…” he reached for a word...

“Let us say dramatic kind.”

I understand. And let me say that it has been a pleasure and a privilege to have known you and having been able to work so effectively with you to achieve change.

We embraced as brothers and the next day he called me with the date. It struck me that with the mandate I had on Jemima—not sacrificing it—and the hard-shell yen of Jesse Jackson to make us cave, this might be every bit as exciting as those now fast-fading days in Commerce…or when the radicals took over the Peace Corps building.

What happened at the fateful meeting—next.

1 comment:

  1. Tom,

    Great shot Pops & Kid Staples pre Democratic Convention, when Jrs. jowls were eclipsed by the svelt Senator!

    O Tempora! O Lardus!