Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown” Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson called Jews “Hymie” and New York City “Hymietown” in a casual conversation with a reporter during his campaign for president of the United States. His words were printed in The Washington Post and created a firestorm among Jewish protesters, Black Muslim supporters of Jackson, and much of the press in the United States. The slur did not surprise many, however, because of Jackson’s history of making anti-Semitic comments.

Summary of Event

In early 1984, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a political radical in the Civil Rights movement and a long-time civil rights leader, was campaigning to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency. He was considered the first credible African American contender for candidacy, given his strong support among blacks. White voters did not seem to support him en masse. He spurred a large black voter turnout in the primaries and was picking up enough delegates to enable him to make the party concede some of his political demands at the Democratic National Convention. However, in a casual conversation with a black reporter on January 25, in a talk he assumed was off the record, he referred to Jews as “hymie” and to New York City as “hymietown.” [kw]Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”, Jesse (Jan. 25, 1984) [kw]"Hymietown", Jesse Jackson Calls New York City (Jan. 25, 1984)[Hymietown] Jackson, Jesse "Hymietown"[Hymietown] New York City;called “Hymietown” Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1984 Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Washington Post;and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Jackson, Jesse "Hymietown"[Hymietown] New York City;called “Hymietown” Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1984 Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Washington Post;and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] [g]United States;Jan. 25, 1984: Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”[02090] [c]Racism;Jan. 25, 1984: Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”[02090] [c]Social issues and reform;Jan. 25, 1984: Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”[02090] [c]Publishing and journalism;Jan. 25, 1984: Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”[02090] [c]Politics;Jan. 25, 1984: Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”[02090] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Jan. 25, 1984: Jesse Jackson Calls New York City “Hymietown”[02090] Coleman, Milton Atkinson, Rick Farrakhan, Louis

Jesse Jackson.

(Library of Congress)

Jackson had been waiting for a flight from National Airport in Washington, D.C., when Milton Coleman, an African American reporter for The Washington Post, engaged him in a conversation. Jackson warmed up to the chitchat and said they should “talk black talk,” that is, speak in confidence because both were black. The two talked about Jackson’s campaign and its racial ramifications. Coleman also took note of Jackson’s use, in what must have been an unguarded moment, of the terms “hymie” and “hymietown.” Not until later, however, did Coleman decide the utterance was too significant to be kept private. Such comments constituted racial slurs, and he perhaps believed that the electorate should know that a person running for president of the United States had uttered anti-Semitic words to denigrate an entire group of people. Prejudice of any kind in a possible president was too important to keep secret from the voters.

Jackson’s record on racial issues had been controversial and provocative for some time. Jackson had a history of anti-Jewish comments, that is, about Jews in general and Israel in particular. In 1979, he suggested Jews were responsible for the ouster of Young, Andrew Andrew Young, an African American, as ambassador to the United Nations. He suggested Jews orchestrated the removal because Young had a private meeting with a Palestine Liberation Organization Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agent at the United Nations. (The PLO was the coordinating council for Palestine refugee groups, founded in 1964, which viewed Israel Israel as an illegal country and was committed to establishing a Palestinian state.) On other occasions, Jackson said that Jews had a persecution complex that caused them to overreact to their own suffering. He said he was tired of hearing about the Holocaust;and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Holocaust, which, he said, was no worse than the suffering of blacks during the period of American slavery. Slavery;Jesse Jackson on He said that when Richard Nixon was U.S. president, several of his top advisers were German Jews who were more concerned about European and Asian affairs than with the poor and disadvantaged in the United States. He said Jews were false friends to blacks, and he disregarded the many instances in American history when Jews and blacks struggled side by side for civil, political, and human rights.

Jackson’s trip to Israel in 1979 included his figurative embrace of PLO chairman Yasir Arafat Arafat, Yasir as a personal friend and “the friend of justice and humanity.” Jackson attributed negative media coverage of his trip to Jewish reporters’ lack of objectivity about Arab affairs. He reacted to his critics by accusing Jews in the media of perpetuating negative stories about him.

Given this well-known background, especially to reporters covering the first African American to run seriously for presidential nomination by a major American political party, Coleman likely did not have much heart-wrenching deliberation about whether to pass along Jackson’s “Hymietown” remarks to a white colleague. That reporter, Rick Atkinson, revealed Jackson’s comments in a February 13 article in The Washington Post about the candidate’s proposed foreign policy. However, the slurs were buried in the article’s thirty-seventh paragraph.

Not unexpectedly, protests erupted in Jewish and other communities. Liberal publications condemned Jackson and argued that his campaign could adversely affect interracial politics and scare voters away from the Democratic Party. With a white backlash fueled by white racism against blacks, critics argued, the United States could see the reelection of Republican president Ronald Reagan.

Attempting to distance himself from the controversy, Jackson initially claimed no recollection of making the remarks and then denied making them. What spurred his memory, however, were the coming primaries and curious voters. He went to Manchester, New Hampshire, two days before the New Hampshire primary, made an emotional speech at a synagogue, admitted his offense, and apologized for the slurs.

The controversy might have receded at this time except for an inflammatory radio sermon by Farrakhan, Louis Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Black Muslim group Nation of Islam Nation of Islam. In his sermon, he said that reporter Coleman should be punished for the pain he caused Jackson, whom Farrakhan supported. Farrakhan went on to warn Jews that if they harmed Jackson, it would be the last “black brother” they would harm. Jackson was expected to denounce Farrakhan for the comment and threats, but even though he noted that Farrakhan’s remarks were counterproductive and even wrong, he did not disavow him. Reagan, Ronald [p]Reagan, Ronald;and Ku Klux Klan[Ku Klux Klan] Reagan, Jackson countered, had not rejected the endorsement he received from the Ku Klux Klan. Jackson’s failure to denounce Farrakhan weakened the salutary effect of his apology to the Jewish people.

Impact

Jackson’s run for the presidency had been considered a long shot by politicians and others, but his campaign was effective for bringing unprecedented numbers of black voters to the polls. In turn, he accumulated enough delegates so that he would have considerable clout in pushing for political concessions at the Democratic convention. However, when the story broke about his racial slurs, his reputation was forever tarnished. Democratic Party leaders feared his comments would adversely affect the party’s platform, which embraces racial and ethnic diversity. To what extent white racism would emerge to influence the election was another concern. Jackson almost single-handedly caused even more white voters to vote Republican in the election and reelect Reagan.

Black leaders were dismayed by Jackson’s strained relationship with Jews because many African Americans welcomed their generally supportive relationship with American Jews. That Jackson had offended Jews meant that domestic relations between the two groups would be endangered. Jewish leaders, in turn, were even more convinced that Jackson, who had so publicly embraced Arab and Palestinian issues, was anti-Semitic. The long-established affinity between African Americans and Jews became tenuous, and the long-standing suspicions many Jews had about Jackson remained as a result of the 1984 presidential campaign scandal. Jackson, Jesse "Hymietown"[Hymietown] New York City;called “Hymietown” Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1984 Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Washington Post;and Jesse Jackson[Jackson]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bruns, Roger. Jesse Jackson: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. Examines Jackson’s life from his early years through his civil rights work, his leadership roles, and his work in international diplomacy. Mostly complimentary but includes some critical views. Photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Landess, Thomas H., and Richard M. Quinn. Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Race. Cheshunt, England: Jameson Books, 1985. A look at Jackson’s political life. Less than approving of his career. Also discusses falsehoods attributed to him about his childhood and other aspects of his life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Timmerman, Ken. Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2002. Critical, candid revelations by so-called inner-circle Jacksonites about Jackson operations and how he manipulates American race relations for personal gain. Presents Jackson as a fraud. An entire chapter covers his association with Yasir Arafat and sheds light on Jackson’s attitude toward Jews.

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