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It takes a momentous occasion to shut down the fabled New York Stock Exchange for a full day. But for the first time, in commemoration of the Martin Luther King holiday in January, the Exchange did just that. And to coincide with the event, Jesse Jackson’s Wall Street Project, formed last year to monitor racism in corporate America, held a three-day conference. Attendees included President Clinton, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and real estate developer Donald Trump. The highlight of the gala was a reception on the floor of the Exchange on Dr. King’s birthday, January 15.
That event was just the latest in a series of victories for the Wall Street Project. Formed in the wake of a series of racist incidents at Texaco, Jackson urged that the Project would develop a new strategy to hold corporations with racist practices accountable.
Apparently, this was the motive behind the organization’s recent purchase of $1,000 worth of stock in PolyGram Records. The purchase stems back to disparaging remarks made by Eric Kronfeld, the COO of the domestic music division of PolyGram Records, Island’s parent company, and a contract dispute between Island Records’ Black Music Group President Hiram Hicks, his brother Joshua, Londell McMillan and Keith Ingram, lawyer and manager, respectively, of Island recording artists Dru Hill. The group had filed a civil suit to extricate itself from its contract. During a deposition hearing in October 1997, Kronfeld said the vase majority of African Americans in the music industry had criminal records.
Jackson responded swiftly, saying Dutch-owned PolyGram had “a pattern of race and sex exclusion.” He later met with PolyGram Chairman Alain Levy, who publicly apologized for Kronfeld’s remarks. He also removed Kronfeld, who oversaw legal affairs and human resources for PolyGram’s U.S. labels, from the management board, and named Motown Records Chairman Clarence Avant to the seat.
But they didn’t stop there. Jackson’s group also decided to purchase small amounts of stock in PolyGram, Time Warner, Seagram, Sony and EMI. The objective: to firmly wedge Operation’s Push’s foot in the door and gain access to privileged stockholders information. Although the Rainbow/Push Coalition declined to reveal precisely how much stock had been purchased in PolyGram, shares of the New York Stock Exchange company were averaging about $50 a share in late December right before the purchase. Becoming shareholders in these companies, says Jackson, will provide access to information about the racial makeup of their boards of directors and executive staffs. It will also grant him leave to speak out at shareholder meetings about perceived unfair hiring practices.
While the stock purchase is minimal, Jackson says, “This gets us into the stockholders meetings and helps us voice our concern. As stockholders we will now be privy to information and be able to attend these meetings. We create too many profits not to have more power in this industry. Our struggle is to get our share of power in the industry and the protection of our creative product.
“We’re no longer picking cotton and entertaining for our