Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Was a Martin Luther King Jr. speech electioneering or inspiration?

November 4, 2008 | 11:40 am

In the mid-city area of Los Angeles, voters waited patiently in hour-long lines at Saturn Street Elementary School, the polling place for one of the most ethnically mixed neighborhoods in the city.

Some elderly voters brought folding chairs, which they moved a few feet at a time as they edged up the sidewalk toward the school auditorium. Precinct inspector Traecy Jackson was talking about how smoothly the day had gone when a man in line interrupted her to complain that a resident across the street from the school was playing a recording of a speech "by Martin Luther King Jr. or Jeremiah Wright or somebody" and that it violated the ban on electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.

Mlk_3 Jackson thanked him and walked across the street, where Ellis Jackson -- no relation -- was sitting on his front porch, writing on a yellow legal pad and playing a speech that King had delivered during the Birmingham bus boycott in 1955. She asked him if he would turn down the volume, adding that the speech was "controversial to some people."

Ellis Jackson objected, saying, "It has nothing to do with Obama," but reluctantly agreed to turn it down. "You have a good day," she said as she walked away, smiling.

"I was having a good day," he replied.

"Aw, now don't let this spoil it," she said.

Later, she conceded "that was borderline" but said she felt compelled to act because of the complaint.

Ellis Jackson, 63, said he plays the speech every day when he sits on his porch, writing essays in a flowing, letter-perfect hand. A stack of yellow legal pads sat on a small desk in front of him. After the precinct inspector left, he switched from King's speech to a tape that he uses to study the Chinese language.

"I'm not electioneering," he said. "I'm not trying to disturb anybody."

An African American who grew up in Mississippi, Jackson said he had voted earlier in the day for Obama, "but I don't believe that Obama can win in the United States." Even if Obama appears to win, he said, there will be "manipulation" in the electoral college to deny him the presidency.

But what if Obama does unequivocally win? "It'll be a profound day in America," he said. "It'll be one of the most profound days in American history."

-- Mitchell Landsberg

Photo: Associated Press