"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Robert Frost made those lines famous in his poem "The Death of the Hired Man," and Michael Jackson, radiating scandal from his second charge of child molestation, has taken these lines to heart.
The boyish man who is best friends with Elizabeth Taylor, married Elvis' only daughter and was accompanied to galas by a chimp named Bubbles, has added new friends to the retinue -- the Nation of Islam and Al Sharpton. And some in the black community find that timing awfully interesting.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday April 12, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 11 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
O.J. Simpson -- A commentary Tuesday incorrectly stated that O.J. Simpson visited the Boulevard Cafe during his murder trial. His visit was after his acquittal in that case.
"Well, you didn't see him with a lot of black people before all this happened," noted one woman, a banker. "But now here he is, showing up, wanting to connect with black folks. And we let him, because we are forgiving people."
Another once-popular black man would have to agree with that. O.J. Simpson's criminal trial split much of Los Angeles -- and the country -- along racial fault lines. After he was accused of murdering his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman, the genial Simpson became persona non grata in many of the white circles in which he had happily traveled. Once considered "colorless" by virtue of his fame and wealth, Simpson quickly found that the support from whites whose admiration he craved had eroded to virtually nothing.
But he had not run out of communities entirely. Some of the black venues in which Simpson had been noticeably scarce greeted him with open arms. Media reports covering his movements during his criminal trial showed how diners applauded when he showed up at the Boulevard Cafe, a now-defunct restaurant on Martin Luther King Boulevard that served as a nerve center for buzz in the largely black Crenshaw community. He got hugs when he visited black churches -- also places that, pre-crisis, he was not known to frequent.
Now Jackson, noticeably paler of skin, thinner of nose and straighter of hair than back in the day when his music lived at the top of the charts, seems to be considering where "home" is.
In 2002, with Al Sharpton by his side, Jackson claimed Sony Music had withheld royalties from his work. Putting Jackson's case to the media, Sharpton likened black artists' relationship to their record companies to slavery. (Although historians of the period probably would agree that Neverland looks more Big House than slave quarters.)
This year, Jackson has engaged the Nation of Islam to be part of his management's advisory team as it ponders how to handle his current dilemma.
Last week, Jackson showed up in Washington, D.C., in hopes of attending a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus demurred, saying it already had a full agenda. But Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) were two of a handful of legislators who met with Jackson afterward.
Jackson-Lee hosted a closed-door conference with Jackson and several African ambassadors seeking his assistance in raising funds for sub-Saharan African AIDS relief. After the meeting, the group held a brief press conference. As Jackson looked on, Rush proclaimed, "this man is going to lead the global effort" against AIDS.
Appearing with the Congressional Black Caucus might have helped Jackson, but at this point most politicians could be forgiven if they consider associating with him a potential negative. Still, Rush isn't worried that Jackson's criminal charges will adversely affect his own stature. An aide explains that Rush (in addition to being a former Black Panther and current congressman) is an ordained minister. And ministers believe that second chances can lead to redemption.
But in order to have a second chance, one has to confess to error and beg forgiveness. Whether Jackson, if he is found guilty, does those things remains to be seen. But, like Simpson before him, he seems to have already discovered the value of returning home, where he has been taken in -- at least some of the time.