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Jackson: Comments about Obama misinterpreted

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: The Rev. Jesse Jackson says his Obama remarks were misinterpreted
  • The State newspaper: Jackson says Obama "acting like he's white" in Jena case
  • Jackson tells The State he does not recall making comment
  • Civil rights leader later applauds Obama for "speaking out" on issue
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Thursday that a South Carolina newspaper misinterpreted his comments when it reported he said Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is "acting like he's white."

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The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to the press Tuesday in Jena, Louisiana.

The State, a South Carolina newspaper, reported Wednesday that Jackson's comments were made in the context of criticizing Obama and the other presidential candidates for not paying more attention to the recent racially charged incident involving the arrest of six black juveniles in Jena, Louisiana, on murder charges.

"There's an unfortunate misinterpretation," Jackson said. "The fact is, I endorse Barack without hesitation and support him today unequivocally."

Jackson also reportedly said on Tuesday that Obama needs to be bolder in his stances if he wants to make inroads in South Carolina. Obama trails rival Sen. Hillary Clinton in South Carolina by 18 points, according to a recent LA Times/Bloomberg poll.

When informed the newspaper intends to stand by its reporting of the quote, Jackson said, "I have not in any way engaged into the degrees of blackness debate." Jackson added he continues to support Obama, whom he called brilliant.

Jackson, along with civil rights activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, organized a march Thursday in Jena, where thousands of protesters clogged the tiny town to show their indignation over what they consider unjust, unequal punishments meted out in two racially charged incidents.

Sharpton called Jena the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement. "There's a Jena in every state," Jackson told the crowd in Jena on Thursday morning.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Obama said his previous statements about the Jena case "were carefully thought out" with input from his national campaign chairman and Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois.

"Outrage over an injustice like the Jena 6 isn't a matter of black and white. It's a matter of right and wrong," Obama said in the statement.

The elder Jackson, who ran for president twice in the 1980s, endorsed Obama's White House bid earlier in the year. Jackson won the South Carolina Democratic primary, where African American voters play an influential role, in both presidential bids.

"If I were a candidate, I'd be all over Jena," the prominent civil rights activist said Tuesday in Columbia, South Carolina, The State newspaper reported. "Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment."

Tensions had simmered at Jena High School and in the small town for the first three months of the 2006 school year after a black student asked the vice principal if he and some friends could sit under an oak tree where white students typically congregated.

Told by the vice principal they could sit wherever they pleased, the student and his pals sat under the sprawling branches of the shade tree in the campus courtyard.

The next day, students arrived at school to find three nooses hanging from those branches. According to The Town Talk newspaper in nearby Alexandria, the school's principal recommended expulsion for those involved in placing the nooses. Instead, the newspaper reported, a school district committee suspended three white students for three days, calling the incident a "prank."

On December 4, several students jumped a white classmate, Justin Barker, knocking him unconscious while stomping and kicking him. The charges against the six blacks -- dubbed the "Jena 6" -- resulted from that incident.

Obama formally released a statement on the case Friday evening after one of the charges against the teen was thrown out, saying, "I am pleased that the Louisiana state appeals court recognized that the aggravated battery charge brought in this case was inappropriate."

"I hope that today's decision will lead the prosecutor to reconsider the excessive charges brought against all the teenagers in this case," he added. "And I hope that the judicial process will move deliberately to ensure that all of the defendants will receive a fair trial and equal justice under the law."

He also said in a separate statement last week, "When nooses are being hung in high schools in the 21st century, it's a tragedy. It shows that we still have a lot of work to do as a nation to heal our racial tensions. This isn't just Jena's problem; it's America's problem."

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider said Obama is under special pressure because he is the only African-American running for president.

But Obama is not of the same generation of black leaders, such as Jackson, who came out of the civil rights moment, Schneider said.

"I think that gives him a special position," Schneider said. "He is running on his appeal -- to white voters as well as to African-American voters -- as a uniter."

"He doesn't want to be a divider in this case," Schneider said.

Meanwhile, Obama's chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, have also recently condemned the Jena case.

Clinton said the controversy surrounding the Jena 6 case is a "teachable moment for America."

"People need to understand that we cannot let this kind of inequality and injustice happen anywhere in America," the Democratic presidential hopeful told Sharpton when she called his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday afternoon.

At last Saturday's NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner in Charleston, South Carolina, Clinton said, "There is no excuse for the way the legal system treated those young people. ... This case reminds us that the scales of justice are seriously out of balance when it comes to charging, sentencing, and punishing African-Americans."

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"It cries out for a full investigation from the Department of Justice's Civil Rights division."

Edwards released a statement Wednesday morning, saying "as someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel a special responsibility to speak out on racial intolerance. Americans of all races are traveling to Jena because they believe that how we respond to the racial tensions in Jena says everything about who we are as a nation." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Alexander Mooney contributed to this report.

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