Address by The Reverend
Jesse Louis Jackson
July 19, 1988
Reverend Jackson: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Tonight, we pause and give praise and honor to God for being good enough to
allow us to be at this place, at this time.
When I look out at this convention, I see the face of America: Red, Yellow,
Black and White. We are all precious in God's sight - the real rainbow
All of us - all of us who are here think that we are seated. But we're really
standing on someone's shoulders. Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Rosa Parks.
(Applause) The mother of the civil rights movement. [Mrs. Rosa Parks was
brought to the podium.]
I want to express my deep love and appreciation for support my family has given
me over the past months. They have endured pain, anxiety, threat and fear.
But they have been strengthened and made secure by our faith in God, in
America, and in you. Your love has protected us and made us strong. To my
wife Jackie, the foundation of our family; to our five children whom you met
tonight; to my mother, Mrs. Helen Jackson, who is present tonight; and to our
grandmother, Mrs. Matilda Burns; to my brother Chuck and his family; to my
mother-in-law, Mrs. Gertrude Brown, who just last month at age 61 graduated
from Hampton Institute - A marvelous achievement. (Applause)
I offer my appreciation to Mayor Andrew Young who has provided such gracious
hospitality to all of us this week.
And a special salute to President Jimmy Carter. (Applause) President Carter
restored honor to the White House after Watergate. He gave many of us a
special opportunity to grow. For his kind words, for his unwavering commitment
to peace in the world, and for the votes that came from his family, every
member of his family, led Billy and Amy, I offer special thanks to the Carter
My right and my privilege to stand here before you has been won, won in my
lifetime, by the blood and the sweat of the innocent.
Twenty-four years ago, the late Fannie Lou Hamer and Aaron Henry - who sits
here tonight from Mississippi - were locked out into the streets in Atlantic
City; the head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
But tonight, a Black and White delegation from Mississippi is headed by Ed
Cole, a Black man from Mississippi; 24 years later. (Applause)
Many were lost in the struggle for the right to vote: Jimmy Lee Jackson, a
young student, gave his life; Viola Liuzzo, a White mother from Detroit, called
nigger lover, had her brains blown out at point blank range; [Michael]
Schwerner, [Andrew] Goodman and [James] Chaney - two Jews and a Black - found
in a common grave, boddies riddled with bullets in Mississippi; the four
darling little girls in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. They died that we
might have a right to live.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lies only a few miles from us tonight. Tonight he
must feel good as he looks down upon us. We sit here together, a rainbow, a
coalition - the sons and daughters of slavemasters and the sons and daughters
slaves, sitting together around a common table, to decide the direction of
party and our country. His heart would be full tonight.
As a testament to the struggles of those who have gone before; as a legacy
for those who will come after; as a tribute to the endurance, the patience,
courage of our forefathers and mothers; as an assurance that their prayers
being answered, their work have not been in vain, and hope is eternal;
night my name will go into nomination for the Presidency of the United States
We meet tonight at the crossroads, a point of decision. Shall we expand, be
inclusive, find unity and power; or suffer division and impotence?
We've come to Atlanta, the cradle of the old South, the crucible of the new
South. Tonight, there is a sense of celebration, because we are moved,
fundamentally moved from racial battlegrounds by law, to economic common
ground. Tomorrow we will challenge to move to higher ground.
Common ground! Think of Jerusalem, the intersection where many trails met. A
small village that became the birthplace for three religions - Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Why was this village so blessed? Because it provided
a crossroads there different people met, different cultures, different
civilizations could meet and find common ground. When people come together,
flowers always flourish - the air is rich with the aroma of a new spring.
Take New York, the dynamic metropolis. What makes New York so special? It's
the invitation of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled masses who yearn to breathe free." Not restricted to English only.
(Applause) Many people, many cultures, many languages - with one thing in
common, they yearn to breathe free. Common ground!
Tonight in Atlanta, for the first time in this century, we convene in the
South; a state where Governors once stood in school house doors; where Julian
Bond was denied a seal in the State Legislature because of his conscientious
objection to the Vietnam War; a city that, through its five Black Universities,
has graduated more black students than any city in the world. (Applause)
Atlanta, now a modern intersection of the new South.
Common ground! That's the challenge of our party tonight. Left wing. Right
Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism,
at the critical mass of mutual survival - not at boundless liberalism nor
static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two
wings to fly. Whether you're a hawk or a dove, you're just a bird living in
the same environment, in the same world.
The Bible teaches that when lions and lambs lie down together, none will be
afraid and there will be peace in the valley. It sounds impossible. Lions eat
lambs. Lambs sensibly flee from lions. Yet when even lions and lambs will
find common ground. Why? Because neither lions nor lambs can survive nuclear
war. If lions and lambs can find common ground, surely we can as well - as
civilized people. (Applause)
The only time that we win is when we come together. In 1960, John Kennedy, the
late John Kennedy, beat Richard Nixon by only 112,000 votes - less than one
vote per precinct. He won by the margin of our hope. He brought us together.
He reached out. He had the courage to defy his advisors and inquire about Dr.
King's jailing in Albany, Georgia. We won by the margin of our hope, inspired
by courageous leadership.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson brought wings together - the thesis, the antithesis,
and the creative synthesis - and together we won.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter unified us again, and we won. When do we not come
together, we never win.
In 1968, the vision and despair in July led to our defeat in November. In
1980, rancor in the spring and the summer led to Reagan in the fall.
When we divide, we cannot win. We must find common ground as the basis for
survival and development and change, and growth. (Applause)
Today when we debated, differed, deliberated, agreed to agree, agree to
disagree, when we had the good judgment to argue a case and then not
self-destruct, George Bush was just a
little further away from the White House and a little closer to private life.
Tonight I salute Governor Michael Dukakis. (Applause) He has run - He has run
well-managed and a dignified campaign. No matter how tired or how tried, he
always resisted the temptation to stoop to demagoguery.
I've watched a good mind fast at work, with steel nerves, guiding his campaign
out of the crowded field without appeal to the worst in us. I have watched his
perspective grow as his environment has expanded. I've seen his toughness and
tenacity close up. I know his commitment to public service. Michael Dukakis'
parents were a doctor and a teacher; my parents a maid, a beautician and a
janitor. There's a great gap between Brookline, Massachusetts and Haney Street
in the Fieldcrest Village housing projects in Greenville, South Carolina.
He studied law; I studied theology. There are differences of religion,
region, and race; differences in experiences and perspectives. But the genius
of America is that out of the many we become one.
Providence has enabled our paths to intersect. His foreparents came to America
on immigrant ships; my foreparents came to America on slave ships. But whatever
the original ships, we're in the same boat tonight. (Applause) Our ships could
pass in the night-- if we have a false sense of independence-- or they could
collide and crash. We could lose our passengers. But we can seek a high
reality and a greater good.
Apart, we can drift on the broken pieces of Reagonomics, satisfy our baser
instincts, and exploit the fears of our people. At our highest we can call
upon noble instincts and navigate this vessel to safety. The greater good is
the common good.
As Jesus said, "Not My will, but Thine be done." It was his way of saying
there's a higher good beyond personal comfort or position.
The good of our Nation is at stake. It's commitment to working men and women,
to the poor and the vulnerable, to the many in the world.
With so many guided missiles, and so much misguided leadership, the stakes are
exceedingly high. Our choice? Full participation in a democratic government,
or more abandonment and neglect. And so this night, we choose not a false sense
of independence, and our capacity to survive and endure. Tonight we choose
interdependency, and our
capacity to act and unite for the greater good.
Common good is finding commitment to new priorities to expansion and
inclusion. A commitment to expanded participation in the Democratic Party at
every level. A commitment to a shared national campaign strategy and
at every level.
A commitment to new priorities that insure that hope will be kept alive. A
common ground commitment to a legislative agenda for empowerment, for the
John Conyers bill-- universal, on-site, same-day registration everywhere.
commitment to D.C. statehood and empowerment-- D.C. deserves statehood.
(Applause) A commitment to economic set-asides, commitment to the Dellums bill
comprehensive sanctions against South Africa. (Applause) A shared commitment to
a common direction.
Common ground! Easier said than done. Where do you find common ground? At
the point of challenge. This campaign has shown that politics need not be
marketed by politicians, packaged by pollsters and pundits. Politics can be a
moral arena where people come together to find common ground.
We find common ground at the plant gate that closes on workers without
notice. We find common ground at the farm auction, where a good farmer loses
or her land to bad loans or diminishing markets. Common ground at the school
yard where teachers cannot get adequate pay, and students cannot get a
scholarship, and can't make a loan. Common ground at the hospital admitting
room, where somebody tonight is dying because they cannot afford to go
to a bed that's empty waiting for someone with insurance to get sick. We are a
better nation than that. We must do better. (Applause)
Common ground. What is leadership if not present help in a time of crisis? So
I met you at the point of challenge. In Jay, Maine, where paper workers were
striking for fair wages; in Greenville, Iowa, where family farmers struggle for
a fair price; in Cleveland, Ohio, where working women seek comparable worth; in
McFarland, California, where the children of Hispanic farm workers may be dying
from poisoned land, dying in clusters with cancer; in an AIDS hospice in
Houston, Texas, where the sick support one another, too often rejected by their
own parents and friends.
Common ground. America is not a blanket woven from one thread, one color,
one cloth. When I was a child growing up in Greenville, South Carolina my
grandmama could not afford a blanket, she didn't complain and we did not
freeze. Instead she took pieces of old cloth - patches, wool, silk,
crockersack - only patches, barely good enough to wipe off your shoes with.
they didn't stay that way very long. With sturdy hands and a strong cord, she
sewed them together into a quilt, a thing of beauty and power and culture.
Democrats, we must build such a quilt.
Farmers, you seek fair prices and you are right - but you cannot stand
alone. Your patch is not big enough. Workers, you fight for fair wages, you
right - but your patch of labor is not big enough. Women, you seek comparable
worth and pay equity, you are right - but your patch is not big enough.
Women, mothers, who seek Head Start, and day care and prenatal care on the
of life, relevant jail care and welfare on the back side of life - you are
- but your patch is not big enough. Students, you seek scholarships, you are
right - but your patch is not big enough. Blacks and Hispanics, when we fight
for civil rights, we are right - but our patch is not big enough.
Gays and lesbians, when you fight against discrimination and a cure for AIDS,
you are right - but your patch is not big enough. Conservatives and
progressives, when you fight for what you believe, right wing, left wing, hawk,
dove, you are right from your point of view, but your point of view is not
But don't despair. Be as wise as my grandmama. Pull the patches and the
together, bound by a common thread. When we form a great quilt of unity and
common ground, we'll have the power to bring about health care and housing
jobs and education and hope to our Nation. (Standing ovation)
We, the people, can win!
We stand at the end of along dark night of reaction. We stand tonight united
in the commitment to a new direction. For almost eight years we've been led by
those who view social good coming from private interest, who view public life
as a means to increase private wealth. They have been prepared to sacrifice
the common good of the many to satisfy the private interests and the wealth of
We believe in a government that's a tool of our democracy in service to the
public, not an instrument of the aristocracy in search of private wealth. We
believe in government with the consent of the government with the consent of
the governed, "of, for and by the people." We must now emerge into a new day
with a new direction.
Reaganomics. Based on the belief that the rich had too little money and the
poor had too much. That's classic Reaganomics. They believe that the poor had
too much money and the rich had too little money so they engaged in reverse
Robin Hood - took from the poor and gave to the rich, paid for by the middle
class. We cannot stand four more years of Reaganomics in any version, in any
How do I document that case? Seven years later, the richest 1 percent of
our society pays 20 percent less in taxes. The poorest 10 percent pay 20
Reagan gave the rich and the powerful a multibillion-dollar party. Now the
party's over, he expects the people to pay for the damage. I take this
principal position, convention, let us not raise taxes on the poor and the
middle-class, but those who had the party, the rich and the powerful must pay
for the party. (Applause)
I just want to take common sense to high places. We're spending $150 billion a
year defending Europe and Japan 43 years after the war is over. We have more
troops in Europe tonight than we had seven years ago. Yet the threat of war is
ever more remote.
Germany and Japan are now creditor nations; that means they've got a surplus.
are a debtor nation. It means we are in debt. Let them share more of the
of their own defense. Use some of that money to build decent housing. Use
of that money to educate our children. Use some of that money for long-term
health care. Use some of that money to wipe out these slums and put America
to work! (Applause)
I just want to take common sense to high places. If we can bail out Europe
Japan; if we can bail out Continental Bank and Chrysler-- and Mr. Iaccoca,
$8,000 an hour, we can bail out the family farmer. (Applause)
I just want to make common sense. It does not make sense to close down
650,000 family farms in this country while importing food from abroad
by the U.S. Government. Let's make sense.(Applause)
It does not make sense to be escorting all our tankers up and down the Persian
Gulf paying $2.50 for every $1 worth of oil we bring out, while oil wells are
capped in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. I just want to make sense.(Applause)
Leadership must meet the moral challenge of its day. What's the moral
challenge of our day? We have public accommodations. We have the right to
We have open housing. What's the fundamental challenge of our day? It is to
economic violence. Plant closings without notice-- economic violence. Even the
greedy do not profit long from greed-- economic violence.
Most poor people are not lazy. They are not black. They are not brown. They
mostly White and female and young. But whether White, Black or Brown, a
baby's belly turned inside out is the same color-- color it pain, color it
hurt, color it agony.
Most poor people are not on welfare. Some of them are illiterate and can't
the want-ad sections. And when they can, they can't find a job that matches
address. They work hard everyday. I know, I live amongst them. They catch the
early bus. They work every day. They raise other people's children. They work
They clean the streets. They work everyday. They drive dangerous cabs. They
change the beds you slept in in these hotels last night and can't get a union
contract. They work everyday. (Applause)
No, no, they're not lazy. Someone must defend them because it's right and
they cannot speak for themselves. They work in hospitals. I know they do.
They wipe the bodies of those who are sick with fever and pain. They empty
their bedpans. They clean out their commodes. No job is beneath them, and yet
when they get sick they cannot lie in the bed they made up every day. America,
that is not right (Applause) We are a better Nation than that! (Applause)
We need a real war on drugs. You can't "just say no." It's deeper than that.
You can't just get a palm reader or an astrologer. It's more profound than
We are spending $150 billion on drugs a year. We've gone from ignoring it to
focusing on the children. Children cannot buy $150 billion worth of drugs a
year; a few high-profile athletes-- athletes are not laundering $150 billion
year-- bankers are.(Applause)
I met the children in Watts who unfortunately, in their despair, their grapes
of hope have become raisins of despair, and they're turning on each other and
they're self-destructing. But I stayed with them all night long. I wanted to
hear their case.
They said, "Jesse Jackson, as you challenge us to say no to drugs, you're
right; and to not sell them, you're right; and to not use these guns, you're
right." And by the way, the promise of CETA; they displaced CETA-- they did
not replace CETA. "We have neither jobs nor houses nor services nor training;
no way out.
"Some of us take drugs as anesthesia for our pain. Some take drugs as a way of
pleasure, good short-term pleasure and long-term pain. Some sell drugs to make
money. It's wrong, we know, but you need to know that we know. We can go and
buy the drugs by the boxes at the port. If we can buy the drugs at the port,
don't you believe the Federal government can stop it if they want to?"
They say, "We don't have Saturday night specials anymore. They say, We buy
AK47's and Uzi's, the latest make of weapons. We buy them across the along
You cannot fight a war on drugs unless until you're going to challenge the
bankers and the gun sellers and those who grow them. Don't just focus on the
children, let's stop drugs at the level of supply and demand. We must end the
scourge on the American Culture! (Applause)
Leadership. What difference will we make? Leadership. We cannot just go along
to get along. We must do more than change Presidents. We must change
Leadership must face the moral challenge of our day. The nuclear war build-up
is irrational. Strong leadership cannot desire to look tough and let that
stand in the way of the pursuit of peace. Leadership must reverse the arms
race. At least we should pledge no first use. Why? Because first use begets
first retaliation. And that's mutual
annihilation. That's not a rational way out.
No use at all. Let's think it out and not fight it our because it's an
unwinnable fight. Why hold a card that you can never drop? Let's give peace a
Leadership. We now have this marvelous opportunity to have a breakthrough with
the Soviets. Last year 200,000 Americans visited the Soviet Union. There's a
chance for joint ventures in space-- not Star Wars and war arms escalation but
a space defense initiative. Let's build in space together and demilitarize the
heavens. There's a way out.
America, let us expand. When Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev met there was a big
meeting. They represented together one-eighth of the human race. Seven-eighths
of the human race was locked out of that room. Most people in the world
tonight-- half are Asian, one-half of them are Chinese. There are 22 nations
in the Middle East. There's Europe; 40 million Latin Americans next door to
us; the Caribbean; Africa-- a half-billion people.
Most people in the world today are Yellow or Brown or Black, non-Christian,
poor, female, young and don't speak English in the real world.
This generation must offer leadership to the real world. We're losing ground in
Latin America, Middle East, South Africa because we're not focusing on the real
world. That's the real world. We must use basic principles, support
international law. We stand the most to gain from it. Support human rights; we
believe in that. Support self-determination,
we're built on that. Support economic development, you know it's right. Be
consistent and gain our moral authority in the world. I challenge you tonight,
my friends, let's be bigger and better as a Nation and as a Party! (Applause)
We have basic challenges - freedom in South Africa. We have already agreed as
Democrats to declare South Africa to be a terrorist state. But don't just
there. Get South Africa out of Angola; free Namibia; support the front line
states. We must have a new humane human rights consistent policy in Africa.
I'm often asked, "Jesse, why do you take on these tough issues? They're not
political. We can't win that way."
If an issue is morally right, it will eventually be political. It may be
political and never be right. Fanny Lou Hamer didn't have the most votes in
Atlantic City, but her principles have outlasted the life of every delegate who
voted to lock her out. Rosa Parks did not have the most votes, but she was
morally right. Dr. King didn't have the most votes about the Vietnam War, but
he was morally right. If we are principled first, our politics will fall in
place. "Jesse, why do you take these big bold initiatives?" A poem by an
unknown author went something like this: "We mastered the air, we conquered
the sea, annihilated distance and prolonged life, but we're not wise enough to
live on this earth without war and without hate."
As for Jesse Jackson: "I'm tired of sailing my little boat, far inside the
harbor bar. I want to go out where the big ships float, out on the deep where
the great ones are. And should my frail craft prove too slight for waves that
sweep those billows o'er, I'd rather go down in the stirring fight than drowse
to death at the sheltered shore."
We've got to go out, my friends, where the big boats are. (Applause)
And then for our children. Young America, hold your head high now. We can
win. We must not lose to the drugs, and violence, premature pregnancy, suicide,
cynicism, pessimism and despair. We can win. Wherever you are tonight,
now I challenge you to hope and to dream. Don't submerge your dreams.
above all else, even on drugs, dream of the day you are drug free. Even in
gutter, dream of the day that you will be up on your feet again.
You must never stop dreaming. Face reality, yes, but don't stop with the way
things are. Dream of things as they ought to be. Dream. Face pain, but love,
hope, faith and dreams will help you rise above the pain. Use hope and
imagination as weapons of survival and progress, but you keep on dreaming,
young America. Dream of peace. Peace is rational and reasonable. War is
irrational in this age, and unwinnable.
Dream of teachers who teach for life and not for a living. Dream of doctors
who are concerned more about public health than private wealth. Dream of
lawyers more concerned about justice than a judgeship. Dream of preachers who
are concerned more about prophecy than profiteering. Dream on the high road
with sound values.
And then America, as we go forth to September, October, November and then
beyond, America must never surrender to a high moral challenge.
Do not surrender to drugs. The best drug policy is a "no first use." Don't
surrender with needles and cynicism. (Applause) Let's have "no first use" on
the one hand, or clinics on the other. Never surrender, young America. Go
America must never surrender to malnutrition. We can feed the hungry and
clothe the naked. We must never surrender. We must go forward.
We must never surrender to inequality. Women cannot compromise ERA or
comparable worth. Women are making 60 cents on the dollar to what a man makes.
Women cannot buy meat cheaper. Women cannot buy bread cheaper. Women cannot
buy milk cheaper. Women deserve to get paid for the work that you do.
(Applause) It's right and it's fair. (Applause)
Don't surrender, my friends. Those who have AIDS tonight, you deserve our
compassion. Even with AIDS you must not surrender.
In your wheelchairs. I see you sitting here tonight in those wheelchairs.
I've stayed with you. I've reached out to you across our Nation. Don't you
give up. I know it's tough sometimes. People look down on you. It took you a
little more effort to get here tonight. And no one should look down on you,
but sometimes mean people do. The only justification we have for looking down
on someone is that we're going to stop and pick them up.
But even in your wheelchairs, don't you give up. We cannot forget 50 years ago
when our backs were against the wall, Roosevelt was in a wheelchair. I would
rather have Roosevelt in a wheelchair than Reagan and Bush on a horse.
(Applause) Don't you surrender and don't you give up. Don't surrender and
don't give up!
Why I cannot challenge you this way? "Jesse Jackson, you don't understand my
situation. You be on television. You don't understand. I see you with the
big people. You don't understand my situation."
I understand. You see me on TV, but you don't know the me that makes me, me.
They wonder, "Why does Jesse run?" because they see me running for the White
House. They don't see the house I'm running from. (Applause)
I have a story. I wasn't always on television. Writers were not always
outside my door. When I was born late one afternoon, October 8th, in
Greenville, South Carolina, no writers asked my mother her name. Nobody chose
to write down our address. My mama was not supposed to make it, and I was not
supposed to make it. You see, I was born of a teen-age mother, who was born of
a teen-age mother.
I understand. I know abandonment, and people being mean to you, and saying
you're nothing and nobody and can never be anything.
I understand. Jesse Jackson is my third name. I'm adopted. When I had no
name, my grandmother gave me her name. My name was Jesse Burns until I was 12.
So I wouldn't have a blank space, she gave me a name to hold me over. I
understand when nobody knows your name. I understand when you have no name.
I understand. I wasn't born in the hospital. Mama didn't have insurance. I
was born in the bed at [the] house. I really do understand. Born in a
three-room house, bathroom in the backyard, slop jar by the bed, no hot and
cold running water.
I understand. Wallpaper used for decoration? No. For a windbreaker. I
understand. I'm a working person's person. That's why I understand you
whether you're Black or White.
I understand work. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had a
shovel programmed for my hand.
My mother, a working woman. So many of the days she went to work early, with
runs in her stockings. She knew better, but she wore runs in her stockings so
that my brother and I could have matching socks and not be laughed at at
school. I understand.
At 3 o'clock on Thanksgiving Day, we couldn't eat turkey because momma was
preparing somebody else's turkey at 3 o'clock. We had to play football to
entertain ourselves. And then around 6 o'clock she would get off the Alta
Vista bus and we would bring up the leftovers and eat our turkey-- leftovers,
the carcass, the cranberries-- around 8 o'clock at night. I really do
Every one of these funny labels they put on you, those of you who are watching
this broadcast tonight in the projects, on the corners, I understand. Call you
outcast, low down, you can't make it, you're nothing, you're from nobody,
subclass, underclass; when you see Jesse Jackson, when my name goes in
nomination, your name goes in nomination. (Applause)
I was born in the slum, but the slum was not born in me. (Applause) And it
wasn't born in you, and you can make it. (Applause)
Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high, stick your
chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes.
you surrender. Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the
faith will not disappoint.
You must not surrender. You may or may not get there but just know that
you're qualified. And you hold on, and hold out. We must never surrender.
America will get better and better.
Keep hope alive. (Applause) Keep hope alive. (Applause) Keep hope alive. On
tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive! (Applause)
I love you very much. (Applause) I love you very much. (Standing ovation and