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June 29th, 2009
01:19 PM ET

Michael Jackson broke down racial barriers

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/06/28/michael.jackson.black.community/art.jackson.1992.afp.gi.jpg caption="Michael Jackson was one of the first black global superstars."]

Debra Alban
CNN

Michael Jackson was an international superstar, and many in the black community herald him for breaking down racial barriers in the music industry.

"Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "Michael did with music what they later did in sports and in politics and in television. And no controversy will erase the historic impact."

As the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson and his brothers "became a cutting-edge example of black crossover artists," said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University's Department of African and African American Studies.

"You basically had five working-class black boys with Afros and bell bottoms, and they really didn't have to trade any of that stuff in order to become mainstream stars," Neal said.

Young Michael Jackson was the first black "bubblegum teen star" in the vein of Monkees singer Davy Jones, Neal said.

Jackson continued as a pioneer in the black culture when he broke barriers by appearing on MTV, and by breaking sales records with the 1982 album, "Thriller."

"At the time that he releases 'Thriller,' I always argue that MTV was arguably the best example of cultural apartheid in the United States," Neal said.

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Filed under: Black in America • Michael Jackson
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  1. Cindy

    Michael did break down a lot of barriers and for that I hope he is remembered. Hopefully his court cases and all of the accusations against him and his weird lifestyle won't over shadow that. He did pave the way for all who are stars now.

    As for myself I grew up listening to all types of music. My dad loved the blues so we were always going to see and listen to, I guess what was referred to as "black" music. To me it was just great music and I didn't see or care what color the person was who played and sung it. So when Michael came out with his music I liked it and never even thought of the black thing. But I do know not everyone grew up that way so it may have been a big thing to accept a black man as a star and a equal.

    Cindy..Ga.

    June 29, 2009 at 1:52 pm |