The Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson

Two Speeches

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1984 Democratic National Convention Speech

In this July 17, 1984 speech in San Francisco, Jesse Jackson sought to heal the division created by his Presidential candidacy and pledged to support the candidacy of Walter Mondale. (Jackson had won almost 400 delegates, finishing behind Mondale and Gary Hart).

Starting at 11 p.m., and for the next fifty minutes (with more television viewers watching than at any time in the convention), Jackson seemed to turn the convention hall into a great revival tent. Successive roars of applause kept swelling over the audience as Jackson's gospel-cadenced, impassioned oration galvanized his audience in the name of party unity.

Throughout it, the television audience kept increasing--reaching 33 million viewers by the end. Many compared the speech to one of the greatest ever delivered at a nominating convention. "If you are a human being and weren't affected by what you just heard, you may be beyond redemption," declared Florida Governor Bob Graham.

1988 Democratic Convention Speech

When he delivered this speech in Atlanta on July 19, 1988 just before 11 p.m., Jackson was at his highest. He had arrived at the convention with over 1200 delegates--second to Michael Dukakis. Only a few months earlier, his upset win in Michigan's primary had opened the possibility he could eventually achieve the Democratic nomination.

This speech, too, was hailed as one of the greatest ever made at a convention--comparable to William Jennings Bryan's 1896 "Cross of Gold" speech, said some observers. There were eighteen standing ovations. In the fifty-minute address, Jackson touched upon his origins in poverty, and affirmed to supporters that his presidential quest had not been futile. One supporter remarked, "Jackson in 1984 was an improbability. In 1988, it's totally possible....."

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