Jesse Jackson’s Address During The 1988 Democratic National Convention

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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, Brown, Black and White. We are all precious in God’s sight — the real rainbow coalition.
All of us — all of us who are here think that we are seated. But we’re Rosa Parks — the mother of the civil rights movement.
[Mrs. Rosa Parks is brought to the podium.] I want to express my deep love and appreciation for the support my family has given me over these 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.
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. 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 voters that came from his family, every member of his family, led by Billy and Amy, I offer my special thanks to the Carter family.
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 onto 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; twenty-four years later.
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,” and brains blown out at point blank range; Michael Schwemer, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney — two Jews and a Black — found in a common grave, bodies 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 of slaves, sitting together around a common table, to decide the direction of our 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, the courage of our forefathers and mothers; as an assurance that their prayers are being answered, that their work has not been in vain, and, that hope is eternal, tomorrow night my name will go into nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America.
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’ll 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 great religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Why was this village so blessed? Because it provided a crossroads where 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 at the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free.” Not restricted to English only. 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 seat 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. Atlanta, now a modern intersection of the New South.
Common ground. That’s the challenge of our party tonight — left wing, right wing. Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but 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 even lions and lambs find common ground. Why? Because neither lions nor lambs want the forest to catch on fire. Neither lions nor lambs want acid rain to fall. Neither lions nor lambs can survive nuclear war.
If lions and lambs can find common ground, surely we can as well-as civilized people. 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 both 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 we do not come together, we never win. In 1968, the division 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.
Today when we debated, differed, deliberated, agreed to agree, agreed 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. He has run — He has run a 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’ve 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. Mike 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.
Our ships could pass in the night — if we have a false sense of independence — or they could collide and crash. We would lose our passengers. 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, not 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 involvement at every level.