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Jesse Jackson Discusses Senator Barack Obama, Convention

August 28, 2008 at 6:40 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Hi, Jim. I’m here with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who, of course, first made history 24 years ago as a very serious candidate for president in 1984. And now 24 years ago, Reverend Jackson, later, here you are.

What are your impressions?

REV. JESSE JACKSON (D), Former Presidential Candidate: Well, I’m excited beyond measure, not just because I thought those campaigns helped, as Reagan would say, tear the walls down.

Before the walls, when they were up, if you tried to climb up, you were shot. If you tried to swim across the river, you were shot. But when the walls came down, East and West Berlin could reconnect.

Now these walls are down, 18-year-olds can vote and bilingual can vote. Assisted disabled can vote, and so Barack is running this magnificent campaign of reconciliation, because it’s the time for that.

He brings to this a vision, and a message, and a timing quality that would surely make Dr. King rejoice.

GWEN IFILL: How did this happen so quickly? Four years ago, he could barely get access to the convention floor, even though he was giving that big speech. How did he build this so quickly?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, it didn’t happen so quickly. And you really think about this, he’s running the last leg of a 54-year race.

I mean, Thurgood Marshall, the walls came down in ’54 legally. The ’55 bus boycott challenging those laws. The ’57 Little Rock boycott challenging those laws. And then, 10 years, we kept chipping away at the walls.

In ’64, Fannie Lou Hamer challenges the convention about an all-white delegation from Mississippi, chipping away. And then in ’65, white women couldn’t serve on juries in Alabama and blacks couldn’t vote. And then 18-year-olds.

And so it’s been a 54-year struggle, and he’s running the last lap of a relay race and doing, I might add, a magnificent run.

Historic moment in Denver

Jesse Jackson
Former Presidential Candidate
Dr. King's dreams at a time when we didn't have public accommodations. Our money was counterfeit. You couldn't rent a room in Holiday Inn; you couldn't buy ice cream in Howard Johnson. And yet we dreamed beyond that. And then the right to vote.

GWEN IFILL: But I have not heard that much about that historic piece of this breakthrough during this election, during this convention. We've heard a lot about, for instance, the women's breakthrough and the Hillary Clinton breakthrough, but not much about the racial aspects.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Most people don't appreciate really that black America has been the engine that's driven the change. If you think about August 28, 1955, Emmett Till lynched. It traumatized the nation. But in the South, it was state-sanctioned terrorism.

August 28, '63, Dr. King's dreams at a time when we didn't have public accommodations. Our money was counterfeit. You couldn't rent a room in Holiday Inn; you couldn't buy ice cream in Howard Johnson. And yet we dreamed beyond that. And then the right to vote.

And now in 2008, August 28th, what a glorious triumph for America. This year, when I saw Barack and Hillary campaigning in Mississippi (inaudible) had been killed in, Emmett Till had been killed. And the governor said, "There will be a decent election here," the governor said -- and he meant it. And it did happen.

I saw men voting for Hillary and whites voting for Barack. It was clear to me they had become the conduits for a new, more mature America trying to express itself. And then we see the maturity in the stadium.

GWEN IFILL: At one point in this campaign, though, you were concerned that Senator Obama was talking down to black people. Was that speaking directly to their concerns?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, my concern even there is that we must speak -- each response really must be a broad message. Today, black America is in great pain. We are freer, but less equal. The most poverty since 1960. Chicago's 500,000 students, 85 percent of them are on food stamps or free lunches. Real poverty, number one in infant mortality, a seven-year shorter life expectancy.

GWEN IFILL: Are we talking about those issues in this campaign?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, they must be talked about. Even I think Barack has said -- certainly more than McCain has, but it is my job as a kind of force of conscience to say: Let's focus on the working poor.

They may be veteran poor. They may be unemployed poor. They may be fixed-income poor. But somehow, whether it's Alabama or Appalachia, our moral authority is called upon how we treat and defend the least of these. And I think Barack and his end the war, reinvest in America embraces that thrust (ph) and I support him rather passionately.

GWEN IFILL: Reverend Jesse Jackson, always a pleasure to talk to you.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Good to see you.

GWEN IFILL: Back to you, Jim.