Kevin Jackson wrote the book on how to win (white) friends and influence (black) people

Kevin Jackson wrote the book on how to win (white) friends and influence (black) people
Jennifer Silverberg

What on earth is a black man doing onstage at a Tea Party rally?

There he is, standing at the microphone, wearing jeans and a navy-and-white-striped polo shirt and a red "We the People" stickpin. He's short and stocky and looks like the linebacker he once was. The sun gleams off his shaved head. "All right, Tea Party!" he cries. "I'm happier than a hippie who made it through Customs to be here!"

This is just one of many strange sights at today's rally in Tinley Park, Illinois, about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. The first surprise is that only about 50 people bothered to show up. They're scattered around a parking lot that could easily hold ten times that number, most of them huddled in patches of shade to avoid the unseasonable heat.

Jennifer Silverberg
The politician who inspired Kevin Jackson, Ronald Reagan.
The politician who inspired Kevin Jackson, Ronald Reagan.

The second is George Washington, who rode in on a white horse and graciously accepted a copy of the Constitution from a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars color guard. Sure, it's an honor for the president of the Constitutional Convention to be here, especially since he's been dead for 200 years, but on closer inspection, George looks a little...odd. Feminine, you might say. Wearing a wig that resembles a pile of congealed spaghetti and a pair of diamond earrings.

Compared to that radical reinterpretation of history, it doesn't seem so weird that a black man would be addressing the Tea Party. Sure, it's rumored to be composed of a bunch of angry racist wing nuts who wave banners comparing President Obama to Hitler and spit on members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes Congressman John Lewis, the last of the civil-rights icons. But then again, this is the month that fourteen African Americans are running for Congress as Republicans, some of them supported by — can it be? — the Tea Party.

What exactly is going on here?

Allow our man at the mic to explain.

"I've had to defend myself against charges of being a race traitor," he tells the crowd. "Against what race? The human race? The left has wielded racism like a dirty nuclear weapon and destroyed blacks and whites. We're being robbed, politically castrated. Have you had enough?"

"Yeah!" shout the faithful.

"We're all warriors!" he yells back. "I fight not for money, not for notoriety, but because I love this country. This is a historic moment for us. We're the next Greatest Generation. And I'm a Bible-clutching, gun-loving American — who happens to be black!"

Meet Kevin Jackson. He's 47 years old and lives in St. Louis' Compton Heights neighborhood. Over the past year and a half, he has, by his own estimation, spoken at more than 100 Tea Party rallies. He's also an author (his book, The Big Black Lie, is for sale at this very rally); a blogger; a frequent guest on conservative talk radio, CNN and the Glenn Beck Program; a TV producer; and a fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute, a political think tank at the University of Kansas. On November 1, the day before Election Day, he's slated to emcee a Tea Party event in New Hampshire, where the featured speaker will be Sarah Palin. Someday soon he may be known as the right's answer to Jon Stewart or the political version of Dave Chappelle (whichever project pans out first).

Two years ago, though, he was just a Midwestern businessman with a blog called the Black Sphere.

Maybe the real question is not "What is he doing here?" but "How did he get here?"

Chapter 1: Find Your Message
Like most black Americans, Kevin Jackson's family always voted Democrat. His grandparents, who raised him and his brother, were ardent political junkies, especially in election years, when they'd gather around the TV after dinner to watch the convention speeches.

"They were both particularly keen on evaluating speeches, especially those given by black Democrats," Jackson recounts in The Big Black Lie: How I Learned the Truth About the Democrat Party, a memoir/polemic he self-published in 2009. "My brother and I were made to watch all the coverage with the usual commentary from one or both grandparents, 'That [insert Democrat here] can really speak!'"

In 1976 Barbara Jordan, a black congresswoman from Jackson's home state of Texas, spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Jackson, thirteen at the time, recalls coming away unimpressed: "I felt that she'd spoken as a victim, not as a self-reliant, accomplished woman," he wrote. "It was a rah-rah speech that focused more on problems, than solving them."

It was Ronald Reagan, who spoke at that year's Republican convention, who stirred young Jackson's soul: "Reagan...painted a picture of America and her citizens. He spoke of education, hard work and accountability — all things my grandparents preached to me and my brother. I remember thinking to myself, 'This is the party that should be getting our votes!'"

And that was the party that got Jackson's votes as soon as he was old enough to cast them. Why should he support policies he didn't agree with just because he was part of a demographic that was expected to vote Democrat?

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