A Man Alone


[This article is reprinted from City Journal.]

In December 2001, the Toyota Motor Corporation held a public meeting at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with racial activist Jesse Jackson. The purpose of the gathering was to discuss Toyota’s “Twenty-First Century Diversity Strategy,” a ten-year program worth some $7.8 billion in contracts for minority-owned businesses. At even a casual glance, the program seemed a capitulation to Jackson, who had threatened to call for a black boycott of the carmaker over some ads that he deemed racist. Toyota’s denials that it had given in to racial extortion rang unconvincing.

Also in attendance that day was another black minister named Jesse—the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson. Peterson is the staunchly conservative head of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, or BOND, which is dedicated to “rebuilding the family by rebuilding the man”—educating males, mostly black males, about personal strength and responsibility. Peterson is also Jackson’s sworn nemesis and calls him, among other things, a “racist demagogue” and a “problem profiteer.” For two years prior to the Toyota meeting, he’d been holding rallies declaring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson.” So when it came time for the Q&A, Peterson asked Toyota’s reps if BOND could apply for its grants without joining Jackson’s Trade Bureau at an entry fee of up to $2,500.

“All hell broke loose in the room,” Peterson writes in his book Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America. “Several blacks got up and started screaming obscenities at me.” Jesse Jackson denounced “some parasites who want to pick up apples from trees they didn’t shake.” When Peterson tried to leave the meeting, he claims that Jesse’s son Jonathan confronted him and shoved him in the chest, while others surrounded him, shouting obscenities.

Peterson sued, claiming that Jesse Jackson threatened him and that Jonathan assaulted him. The jury split 6–6 on the assault charge, and it was settled out of court. A lengthy 6–6 split on the other charges ended when, according to the Los Angeles Times, three jurors, still professing to believe Peterson, surrendered to the argument that he hadn’t proved his claims. Though Jesse Jackson had to admit under oath that his Trade Bureau played a role in distributing the Toyota grants—and though he acknowledged the “parasites” remark—he and his son walked away largely unscathed.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesse Jackson when I visited Peterson at BOND recently. I couldn’t help but think of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, with its monumental marble headquarters in Chicago and branches in major cities around the country. BOND’s offices, by contrast, are in a shabby storefront sitting amid furniture stores, gas stations, and billboards in a flat and dispiriting stretch of L.A.’s Mid-City West section. Whereas Rainbow/PUSH reportedly receives double-digit millions in corporate grants and sponsorships, BOND gets by on about half a million dollars a year in mostly private donations (though some money comes in from Toyota since the 2001 brouhaha). Its Home for Boys, a gabled house in a pleasantly leafy residential neighborhood nearby, can hold eight residents at a time, with some sharing rooms. That, along with BOND’s After-School Character Building Program, which takes on ten to 12 kids for six to nine weeks, represents an effort no larger than, say, a church Sunday school: about 70 boys have graduated from both programs so far. BOND chapters begun in Flint and Lansing, Michigan, have had to close down for lack of funds.

But if BOND is austere, it nonetheless provides Peterson with a platform from which to speak his indomitable piece. The building includes a rudimentary chapel—a cross, a podium, maybe 30 office chairs—where he preaches to a small congregation every Sunday (the sermons are later posted on his website and YouTube). There’s also an admirably equipped studio from which he puts on a radio and Internet call-in show five mornings a week. As BOND’s president and CEO, he makes regular TV appearances with Fox News stalwarts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity (who serves on BOND’s advisory board). He also writes a no-holds-barred column on the popular conservative Christian website WorldNetDaily, and he makes occasionally raucous speaking appearances, including a recent debate at Yale University in which he denounced affirmative action, to predictable hisses from the Yale Political Union.

Still, the contrast between Jesse Jackson’s wealth and fame and Jesse Lee Peterson’s relatively modest circumstances seems an object lesson in the fate of competing narratives and identities. The great social thinker Shelby Steele has written that to “be black” in America requires the wearing of a mask. Either you are a “challenger,” like Jackson, who essentially tells whites: “I judge you racist until you do something—such as giving me money—to prove otherwise.” Or you are a “bargainer,” like Barack Obama, who says, “I will not use racism against you, if you will not use race against me.”

But Jesse Lee Peterson will not “be black” in that sense at all. “The ‘Black Experience’ is a myth used to control people,” he has written. His approach to the problems facing America’s entrenched black underclass is profoundly personal. And his comparatively marginal place in the culture raises the possibility that, for a public black in America, to be a man only is to be a man alone.

Most black Americans are suffering not because of racism but the lack of moral character,” Peterson tells me. We are sitting in his office in BOND’s cramped second story. It’s a threadbare space: cheap desk, cheap chairs, some books on cheap shelves, some photos of friends and BOND graduates hanging on the off-white walls or propped against them. “About 50 years ago, the government came in under Lyndon B. Johnson, and it said to black people, ‘We’re gonna take care of you. You can’t make it because of racism. But you can’t have a father in the home, you can’t have a man in your home.’ ” He’s alluding to welfare systems that subsidized single mothers and thus discouraged marriage. “And many black people decided to go with that, and they took the fathers out, and the government became the daddy of the family. And the so-called civil rights leaders became the head of the people . . . and they have managed to brainwash, dumb down, and demoralize the people for their own personal gain.”

Like many outspoken conservatives, Peterson is only noticed by the mainstream media when he makes statements that are, I suspect, purposely calibrated to shock and annoy them: “Thank God for slavery” (because it brought blacks out of Africa to America) and “Barack Obama hates white people.” Like many black conservatives, he is subject to continual name-calling and racial slurs. One man even pulled a gun on him when he recognized him in a restaurant, Peterson says, and others have threatened violence against the radio stations that run his show. But in appearance and behavior, at least, he doesn’t fit the firebrand mold. He’s a slender man of average height with a relaxed, quiet aspect. A cleft palate, not repaired until he was in his teens, left him with a slight speech impediment, and he has developed a careful manner of speaking, not ferocious at all, not even in the pulpit. He is self-effacing and humorous and notes his own lapses in grammar and eloquence by telling me simply and without apology, “I didn’t get a great education.” He is scrupulously direct and thorough when answering questions, and his worldview is strikingly coherent and precise.

Like Steele—who provides both a blurb and a frontispiece quotation for Peterson’s autobiography, From Rage to Responsibility—Peterson decries the transformation of the civil rights movement from a principled appeal to the American creed to a politicized shakedown of guilt-ridden whites. He condemns the government subsidies of single motherhood that have helped set loose a plague of black illegitimacy and its attendant plagues of generational poverty and crime. (See “Heralds of a Brighter Black Future,” Spring 2005.) And he bemoans the black culture of dependency on government support that even welfare workers privately call “welfare psychosis.”

But Peterson is no metropolitan academic. Despite his quiet demeanor and delivery, his message is charged with that old-time religion. Where Steele views the last 40 years of civil rights activism as a complex and poisonous blend of white guilt, black opportunism, and government incompetence and corruption, Peterson sees an intentional power grab by an anti-American Left, a self-interested attempt to destroy the nation by destroying manhood and marriage, part of the ongoing and eternal struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. “You cannot control a moral people,” he tells me. “You have to keep them immoral in order to control them.”

When Peterson starts talking, the words I don’t agree with everything he says, but . . . leap screaming into your mind. Even conservative commentator Dennis Prager, who serves on BOND’s advisory board and calls Peterson “one of the handful of great men anyone is privileged to meet in a lifetime,” makes a similar disclaimer in his foreword to the autobiography. It’s a gesture of mental self-defense, I think, against a preacher who seems very peacefully and yet relentlessly to say what has become, in the current American narratives of race and gender, virtually unsayable.

Take Peterson’s vision of restoring the lost black family, which is unflinchingly religious and traditional. “There is a spiritual order to life that was ordained by God,” he tells me. “And that order is God in Christ, Christ in man, man over woman, woman over children. And it’s not an ego trip, it’s just a spiritual order, that men are subject to Christ and women are subject to men.”

At this point on the interview tape, you can hear me start to stammer hilariously. I don’t agree with everything he says, but. . . . And yet, at the same time I’m stammering, several thoughts crowd in on me. First, Peterson’s traditionalism is only an echo of Paul’s advice to married couples in Ephesians, not to mention John Milton’s deathless description of Adam and Eve: “He for God only; she for God in him.” Second, his words are spoken in answer to a community where I’ve repeatedly heard black women describe black men as “weak” and black men describe black women as “mean.” Third (and I can’t wait to drop this comment at my wife’s next dinner party), the happiest middle-class white families I know are still fashioned on some version of Peterson’s principle—the husband as head of the household—as long as that leadership is understood, as Peterson understands it, to be subject to an overarching moral order of love, gentleness, and grace.

“What men don’t understand is that they represent God in the family, in the home, and . . . they’re supposed to love what’s right more than anything else,” Peterson tells me. “And when they love that, then God dwells in them and works through them to guide them in the right way so that they can guide their families.”

Peterson’s program for restoring this paradigm is fashioned from his personal experience—almost, in fact, a universalization of his autobiography. Born in 1949 in the sleepy little town of Comer Hill, Alabama, he grew up on the former plantation where his great-grandparents had labored as slaves. His father would not acknowledge him, and his mother had moved north to start a family with another man. Peterson was raised by his grandmother and frequently disciplined by his grandfather, who managed the old farm for its white owners. But despite the fact that his great-grandfather had been murdered by a white mob, and despite the Jim Crow world in which they lived, “Not once did I hear them blame white folks or say that it was because we were black,” he tells me. “They understood that it was wrong, but they understood that it was a moral issue, it was a spiritual issue. And so they taught us not to hate.”

It was not racism that troubled the young Peterson as much as what he calls a “hunger for father.” He writes in his autobiography: “I used to yearn, to literally ache in my gut, for him to come into my life and make himself known to me, and claim me as his son.” Peterson did come to know his father in his early teens and drew deep satisfaction from occasional visits to him in East Chicago, Indiana, where he had a family and owned a laundry business. At 16, Peterson moved in with his mother and stepfather in the nearby city of Gary and there came to learn of her deep resentment of the man who denied impregnating her. “Her anger at him kept her from loving me,” Peterson writes.

On graduating high school, Peterson moved to Los Angeles and was soon adrift in the sixties counterculture. After a series of odd jobs, he learned how to play the welfare system. Merely by claiming to be a drug addict, he was able to cadge $300 a month in government handouts, plus rent and food stamps. He stopped working altogether, turned to full-time drug use and sex, and “descended into a pit of irresponsibility and laziness. It nearly destroyed me.” Peterson and his friends in South Central L.A. would frequently gather around the radio to listen to Louis Farrakhan. The fiery Nation of Islam preacher “made me feel good to be black” and “caused me to hate the white people around me.” Through most of his thirties, Peterson writes, “I was a sullen, furious, and racist black man.”

It was another radio preacher who changed Peterson’s direction: Roy Masters, a British convert from Judaism, who advocated praying to God for self-knowledge and listening quietly for God’s response. Such prayers led Peterson to confront his anger, not against whites, but against his own parents, so that he came to understand himself outside the context of his skin color. He visited his mother and forgave her for her anger. She cried. He visited his father and forgave him for his neglect. The older man was grateful. For Peterson, the experience was liberating and set him on the path of ordination and a successful, directed life.

It is, in its general outlines, an archetypal black American life story—the same arc from poverty and prejudice to drift and personal degradation to revelation and reclamation that defines, say, The Autobiography of Malcolm X or Manchild in the Promised Land. What distinguishes Peterson’s story, what distinguishes Peterson, is the ferociously un-racial, nearly anti-racial terms in which he came to understand his salvation. Having nearly lost himself in the narrative of being an angry black man in a racist America, he now seeks to reclaim angry black men by having them reproduce his personal narrative of purely individual forgiveness, liberation, and faith. With emotional, educational, and career counseling of the young men who come to BOND, “we are putting the fathers back by showing them how to overcome anger,” he says. “They have to first forgive their fathers for not being there to guide them and to fill that emptiness that they feel within themselves. They have to forgive their mothers for being angry at the fathers and turning the children away from the fathers. . . . And then they have to stop resenting themselves. And when they can forgive, then you feel good within yourself and you can move on with life.”

It seems clear why such a program would have less mass appeal than Jesse Jackson’s I’m-black-you’re-racist-give-me-something-or-else approach. Identity politics is easy; forgiveness is hard. The kind of personal forgiveness that Peterson preaches is more difficult, too, than the straighten-up-and-do-right Christianity of many more popular white ministers, like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, because it requires an inner revolution rather than outward restraint.

And for now, at least, the evidence of BOND’s effectiveness is purely anecdotal. Some of the graduates of the program are working for BOND—to all appearances, happily and effectively. There are a few testimonials on the website, and there are those smiling pictures of graduates and participants in Peterson’s office. “One or two didn’t make it,” he tells me. “But most do.”

Six young men, aged 16 to 30, are currently living in BOND’s nearby Home for Boys. The place looks exactly like what any parent would expect a well-tended home filled with males to look like. The bedrooms are a bit rough-and-tumble in the folded-clothes department but clean underneath. There are the requisite big-screen TV and X-Box in the front room, a pleasant kitchen and a usable washer-dryer toward the back, and a patio with a barbecue outside. Run by a live-in manager and his assistant, the Home is a place for young men to learn how to find work, save money, and pay bills. While most of the residents were at school or work when I visited, 30-year-old Mensah Watts was there doing the laundry on his day off from one of his two full-time jobs: maintenance worker at UCLA and clerk at a CVS drugstore. He hopes to become a writer and is working on a fantasy novel and a memoir in his rare off hours. He credits Peterson with his reclamation from anger and rebellion. For all that, however, there is no tracking system for BOND graduates and no statistics with which to gauge the program’s success.

Statistics for failed approaches, on the other hand, are plentiful. After 40 years of the racially based politics that Peterson condemns—40 years of activists crying bias, of billions of dollars in race-sensitive government programs—the black illegitimacy rate, with its high correlation to poverty levels, has more than tripled, to over 70 percent; the black homicide rate is more than seven times higher than the combined white and Hispanic rate; and blacks’ average SAT scores are 200 points below whites’. Whether we agree with everything the minister says or not, it’s worth wondering if Shelby Steele isn’t right when he says of Peterson’s life story that it “does what the entire field of American sociology fails to do. It makes the point that traditional values are transformative in themselves and, therefore, the best antidotes to social dysfunction.”

Andrew Klavan is a City Journal contributing editor and the author of such best-selling novels as Don’t Say a Word and Empire of Lies. His new thriller for young adults, The Long Way Home, will be out in February.

  • Rybbe

    Thanks Andrew and thanks to Frontpage for bringing wonderful individuals like this man to light. We have no way of reading about and ultimately supporting real patriotic Americans like Rev. Peterson because he doesn't fit the "accepted" profile of a black person and thus shouldnt exist. To be black, conservative and trying to undo the devastation that 40+ years of welfare have done to the black community puts this man in a very lonely spot. We fellow conservatives need to hear voices such as his because his fighting spirit and commitment to his fellow man is the very best of what Americans represent and do.People like him make me even more proud to be an American. I want to read more about brave Americans like the Rev.

  • Denis X

    Sent him back to the plantation, where he really wants to be.

    • DBCooper

      The plantation is exactly what he has declared war on by speaking against it. The plantation is a party now, it requires lockstep agreement at all times. The party protects only its faithfull servents.

      Your sentence tells me that you serve the party on your knees with a wide open mouth. They give you money and freebies just so long as you remember to wipe the goo from your chin on a regular basis. You have no pride and you cant call yourself a man.

      I disagree with his absolutist religious sentiments, however his journey from leftist party fluff girl to strong independant man makes him worthy of respect. This is something you will never have for as long as you live. It is no wonder why you hate him so much.

      • Denis X

        Cooper and jack, you ladies are really in to being on your knees. You talk of political paries, I refer to white america. If jesse is your boy and you are his bitch then enjoy each other, I could care less. I don't want anything from any of you freaks. You can't deal with a Blackman who has his own. I don't want your stars and stripes , nor your white whores ( keep them tiger) your sideshow is funny. So when you decide whose on top, you or jack, holler back with ideas/ agruement, sorry you can't cause your mouth is full.

        • USMCSniper

          Cake wawk fah meh mista unedjumacated buckwheat denis, sho meh youse shuffal, yassah, un Ah bets youse wares youse pants down balow youse butty cheeks un youse basesawball caps on sidesways. Yassah.

          • Denis X

            sniper, your a little bitch, can't you look a man in the eyes when you kill him, got do it from a mile away. military, the salvation army is more like it. I have more college degrees than any trailor trash like yourself. Again , read this slowly, perhaps you'll understand, there have been very sucessful Black people in this counrty for a long time , we don't take sh_t from little crying bitches like you or toms like your peterson boy. I don't want or need anything from little girls like you. So when you kearn to write proper english, then maybe I'll give you a job washing my Bens, bitch.

          • UMCSniper

            Hay Buckwheat Denis you said " I have more college degrees than any trailor trash like yourself." Ahhhhh… errrr… learn to spell, it is TRAILER not TRAILOR."

            By the way, all the bruthas call me super honky cracka behind my back because and sir to my face because I am the baddest rooster in the whole chicken coop."

          • Denis X

            Well colonel sanders it must be an extremely small trailer park/coop. Talk is cheap. All the white boys here call me Sir to my face and behind my back.

          • USMCSniper

            That went right by you. You are just another untrained out of shape loudmouth buckwheat. You are one of those street thugs who probably picks on all those nice white non-aggressive boys that are not fighters with your chimpout homeboys around to jump in and save you should you get in trouble. Then, there are white guys like me who will definitely hurt you bad that you know better than to take on because we are in shape, stronger, formally trained, and above all, a whole lot meaner and ruthless than you can ever imagine even in your worst nightmares.

          • Denis X

            you don't have a clue, your no wood, make my day , please

          • Denis X

            Yo low life, do you really think that a street thug would read a right wing racist zoinist web site, are you that stupid . I mean I know your in the military, you couldn't get a job or get into college so now we pay you to do nothing. Shouldn't you be writting to stromfront. Your the reason why any self-respecting Blackman shouldn't lift a finger for this country . Remember me when you come begging for a job. Is that why you hate so much? As a whiteman you still ain't shit. Go to the gulf and get killed.

          • USMCSniper

            Yassah it dun awl be dah white man fault. Whitman beex dah deval, just like Louis Farrakan dun tolt meh an "evil scientist" named Yakub created white people.

            By the way I have a BSEE and an MS in Physics you dumb cake walking chimpout!

          • Jim Darlington

            Denis, How are you going to become the man you were made to be if you keep talking like a ten year old punk?
            You really read the life of this man as somehow servile?
            You completely miss that he is a man simply aware of the massive screwing and destruction of the black community by the American Left of both races?
            He gives his life to stand against that so you slander him?
            That's really sad, Denis.
            Do you really believe it was strong black men, of whom there have been MANY, who influenced your infantile trash talking culture? Or does it go back to some racist white guys doing what they could to keep 'em stupid and easy to control.

  • Brian Hart

    Thank you for this story. Rev Peterson needs not apologize for anything! He is, without a doubt, one of the premier spokesmen for black freedom in America today! Why? Because he walks, hand in hand, with the Living God! His demeanor tells me he is a humble man who cares about the black community as well as America in general! I know he may not see this but, I am going to be bold and offer him a piece of advice. Rev Peterson, never stop walking with and leaning on Almighty God! He is the strength that will shutdown bigots like the false "rev" Jackson and dogs like him. God will squash Jackson like a bug. The Lord will lead you from victory to victory against all forms of satanic evil, be it Jackson, the democrat (fascist) party, islam, drugs, and all forms of bigotry! God is the way, truth, and light through His Son, Jesus!

    May God bless you Rev Peterson! May He hold you and protect you and yours!

    Sincerely

  • Denis X

    He worships the god of the slaveowner, thats why he's sooooooooo confused. But its his right to be a pet of white america. When fox needs a tom , " who you going to call? " jesse or juan.

    • jackbelias

      White America? The party bosses you serve on your scrapped knees are often white. Is he a Tom because his knees arent scrapped? Is he in your debt because your knees still bleed?

      Jesse is the ultimate fraud, he made himself rich and loved by white America by blowing the demotard party best. Are you in the hopes that Jesse will give you lessons so you can suck it like he can and become equally rich and loved by white America?

    • USMCSniper

      Yassah, youse likes dah Referend Jerimiah Wright of dah choclate liberation theology an dah man Louis Farrakann sho said he bin in dah spaceship circling dah earth mit dah Elijah Mohammed. Yassah,, dey serves wattamelon un fry chilin ebery day dere.

  • Denis X

    Jack, you sure know alot about being on your knees. Why is that?

    • AL.

      You must be really proud, with your silly x after your name, denis… Get back before your mtv channel to smoke some grass, that 's the best thing you can do… And screw you until death, brother.

      • Denis X

        I work around white trash like you, so one must do what one must do. And about the screwing your mother and sister don't complaint.

        • USMCSniper

          Oh you actually work? Oh yes, I forgot, picking up the trash on the highway with the rest of the convict bruthas,

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Rosey24 Rosey24

    Thank You Rev. Keep up the good work!

  • Jim Darlington

    Denis, How are you going to become the man you were made to be if you keep talking like a ten year old punk?
    You really read the life of this man as somehow servile?
    You completely miss that he is a man simply aware of the massive screwing and destruction of the black community by the American Left of both races?
    He gives his life to stand against that so you slander him?
    That's really sad, Denis.
    Do you really believe it was strong black men, of whom there have been MANY, who influenced your infantile trash talking culture? Or does it go back to some racist white guys doing what they could to keep 'em stupid and easy to control.

    • Denis X

      Jim, I understand your point of view, but please do alittle research about this person beyond this article. Peterson has stated that slavery was the best thing that ever happen to Black people. I can not support that idea. Also, my perpective isn't one of left vs. right, but of white vs. Black. It's galling to Black people when fox give these people a stage. Question, does he have a church, where is it, how many people of color support him? I'm not a fan of jackson or sharpton. I don't consider peterson a strong anything. I go to work, pay my taxes, raise my family and stay out of trouble.

  • Jim Darlington

    NOTICE:
    If you are a leftist you have become everything that you hate.
    It doesn't matter which race you are.
    Blame is a spiritual disease.
    It renders people miserable and impotent.
    Which is why every tyrant promotes it endlessly.
    It is the essential prelude to complete political control.
    Wake up brother.
    There is a God who loves you and wants you to be whole and to be glad to live.
    He is not the possession of slaveowners or of any man. He is the maker and molder of men and the source of all kindness.

  • Jim Darlington

    NOTICE:
    If you are a leftist you have become everything that you hate.
    It doesn't matter which race you are.
    Blame is a spiritual disease.
    It renders people miserable and impotent.
    Which is why every tyrant promotes it endlessly.
    It is the essential prelude to complete political control.
    Wake up brother.
    There is a God who loves you and wants you to be whole and to be glad to live.
    He is not the possession of slaveowners or of any man. He is the maker and molder of men and the source of all kindness.

  • Larry D. Crumbley

    Hello,
    Of the two ministers listed here, which one in your mind is a "REAL MINISTER OF GOD? Please let me know if you read my comments here, at this e-mail address. bearone7777@yahoo.com. Please do not be afraid I will not come and shove you down like the son of Jesse Jackson di to this man. God Bless Gods children that see fakes and phonies from afar. Tell me what you think okay.

    Larry C.