The Best President the United States Never Had

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BK: The literati worldwide, you are sure to find, tend to dismiss as “regional” (that is to say, of limited appeal and/or of no account) writers and writing not indigenous to capital cities – for instance, London and its environs in the case of the UK. Nevertheless, writers should write about what they know, “regional” or otherwise.

Accordingly, I recall below some stirring incidents from the past and present whereby my “regional” Greater Manchester has proven its consequence to world affairs. I offer  readers too, in passing, a very personal yardstick originating with a far greater authority than I, and according to which, unpublished writers may decide for themselves whether they should continue to write, undeterred by rejection, with a view to eventual publication.

Anybody above a certain age (and/or possessed of an historical perspective) will be able visualise in his mind’s eye the monochrome press photograph which shows the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the celebrated civil rights activist standing next to Dr Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, Memphis, on 3 April, 1968 – the day before Dr King was assassinated by a low life who’ll get no billing here.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was seen, too, in the city of Manchester in the UK nearly 40 years on. That is to say on Sunday, 26 August,2007, when he spoke in support of the new Equanomics Movement aimed at giving black communities equal economic footing, and thereby tackling at the roots many of the social ills (e.g. gun crime, drug culture, poverty and youthful non-commitment to civilised values) at present besetting the inner city.

But where (an enthusiastic and welcoming Afro-Caribbean contingent apart) were my fellow Mancunians on that bright Sunday morning two years ago? Because I found myself almost single-handedly representing Mancunians of European descent at a packed cinema complex on Deansgate where the Reverend Jesse Jackson – convincing, charismatic, articulate as ever – received the rapturous welcome he so richly deserves.

Well, okay, it was the August Bank Holiday weekend after all, so those with leisure commitments of long-standing may stand excused. But, if there are perhaps others amongst us who imagine the Equanomics Movement is the sort of thing we don’t get involved in, they should think again. Because negative thinking of that sort is way past its sell-by date. Not to put too fine a point on it, the idea of personal non-involvement when it comes to the need to make a positive statement about socio-racial issues is (well, for Mancunians at any rate), as many as 145 years past its sell-by date – and there are monuments in the area to prove it.

First amongst these is the Lincoln Memorial in Lincoln Square, off Brazennose Street, Manchester, where a statue of Abraham Lincoln commemorates the Cotton Famine of the 1860s when, consequent upon the Union blockade of Confederate ports during the American Civil War, thousands of local cotton operatives were thrown out of work when the raw materials of their trade could not get through. Originally, the Confederacy imagined the hardship thus engendered would aid their cause. But they reckoned without the stern resolve of the ordinary people of this area to see justice done with regard to the offence against our common humanity that chattel slavery undoubtedly represents. Accordingly, when a public meeting at Manchester Free Trade Hall on 31 January, 1862, upheld this brave humanitarian sentiment, Abel Heywood, the chairman of the meeting, was able to communicate a message of support to President Lincoln. This message and President Lincoln’s gracious reply adorn the Lincoln Memorial to this day.

Meanwhile, high in the Pennines there are other, less accessible monuments to this episode in local history, where traces of the so-called Cotton Famine roads may still be seen north-west of the A635 Greenfield-Holmfirth road and elsewhere aboveRochdale. These relicts of unemployment relief cut across the watershed in locations where it would nowadays perhaps qualify as cruelty to walk the dog.

‘If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it,’ said the Reverend Jesse Jackson about the Equanomics Movement. And about the enslavement of the forbears of so many of his audience, he had this to say: ‘Our ancestors were not slaves, rather were they temporarily enslaved. They did not give in.’ Time and again – with regard to family life in the inner city, to education, to drug culture and gun crime – he urged his listeners, now keenly mindful of their forebears’ achievement in the face of oppression: ‘Don’t let them down!’

Now, it seems to me that my Mancunian forbears were enslaved at one time too: to a twelve hour working day, to a six and a half day working week, to no transportation to and from their place of work, to minimal holiday entitlement (if any), to sick leave without pay, to no work at all on occasion – one such occasion being a direct consequence of their determined opposition to chattel slavery. So perhaps the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s advice in the matter is applicable, too, to our own attitude to the various woes that currently beset modern society and to the means whereby an effective cure for them may be sought.

Accordingly, ‘Don’t let them down!’ is the advice I pass on from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Civil Rights activist, personal envoy to US presidents, himself a presidential candidate on two occasions – and arguably the best President the United States never had.

BK: Readers may care to note that, in Appendix 5 of Write It Self-Publish It Sell It, I refer to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s words which appear in Bold font above. Whilst stressing that this exhortation is “more properly applicable to a far greater yearning than personal creativity as evidenced in the desire to self-publish”, I go on to say: “Take to heart the conditional clauses contained within this statement inasmuch as they apply to the way you truly feel about your [writing], and act accordingly:

‘If my mind can conceive it and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.’

© Bill Keeth, August 2009


Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.

Click here to return to the index of stories for W I S P


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