From a Baltimore pulpit, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson urged President Clinton yesterday to reverse U.S. policy of sending Haitian refugees back to their country and to help restore their ousted president to power.
Mr. Jackson also criticized professional black athletes for failing to speak out against racism in sports management in his sermon before an enthusiastic, standing-room-only audience at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He would not comment afterward on reports that he is a candidate to become the next NAACP director.
His 45-minute sermon was interrupted a number of times by ovations and shouts of approval as he covered a range of issues -- from his contention that Jesus was of African heritage, to foreign policy, to racism in sports, to the failure of black Americans to take advantage of expanded opportunities.
But Mr. Jackson spent most of his time discussing the plight of Haitians. He said the president was going along with many of his predecessor's foreign policy positions, including turning back Haitians without a hearing.
"Candidate Clinton called that a moral disgrace," Mr. Jackson said of the Haitian policy. "He said it was illegal, that it violated international law -- and he was right." He said Mr. Clinton's position changed after the election.
He said the government's policy was "the opposite of the 'Give me you tired, your poor, your huddled masses' message" and reflected a lack of concern about Haiti.
"More Haitians died when a ferry boat overturned two weeks ago than the number of people who died on the Titantic," he said. "But since they were just Haitians, there was not a screaming headline, only a mention in passing."
Last month, Mr. Jackson fasted for a week to protest the government's policy of detaining HIV-infected Haitian refugees at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba. He said gay groups concerned about the stigma of AIDS should support their cause.
Mr. Jackson said President Clinton should use force to return to power the country's elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by the country's military.
"We said to the warlords in Kuwait that by a certain date, 'Get out,' " Mr. Jackson said. "We said to the warlords in Somalia, 'Get out.' We said to the warlords in Panama, 'Get out.' We should say to the warlords in Haiti to get out."
In an interview after the sermon, Mr. Jackson criticized professional black athletes who have not spoken up against racism in sports management. He said black athletes have backed away from the issue.
"Gayle Sayers can't get a job in pro football today, Reggie Jackson can't get a job in baseball now and Ernie Banks can't get a job in pro baseball today," he said. "So in many ways, speaking up now gives them options for tomorrow."
Mr. Jackson stepped up his attack on the professional sports establishment after a controversy over racist comments by Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. He has criticized professional teams for failing to hire and promote minorities to upper management posts.
Mr. Jackson, a two-time contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, was silent on the rumors that he is a potential successor to the retiring Benjamin L. Hooks as director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The reason why I can't discuss it with you publicly is because I have not discussed it with anyone privately, so I would be inappropriate," he said. NAACP spokesman James D. Williams would not say whether anyone has been interviewed for the job and would not disclose the names of finalists. He said Mr. Hooks' successor would be chosen before the director leaves on March 31.