The following remarks were delivered by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on August 2 at the Rainbow PUSH Saturday Forum. They appear here as part of the ongoing Moral Compass series, focusing on the spoken word.
I want to thank all of you who are here today, and those listening and viewing around the nation and the world, for your prayers and expressions of support, and even your criticism. It is challenging but also often helpful. We must see the value of healthy critiques. We are accountable to each other.
But through all of this, while I went on my sojurn to the desert, I thank you. I fasted and prayed and reflected. I went to the valley in a real search for for my assignment and to renew the health and strength of my soul. I want to be morally and physically fit for this battle. I want my preaching and my living to be closely connected. Too often the preaching is higher than the living. The Gospel must not be compromised.
This is a magic moment in American history. I’ve been blessed to be a part of a great era. I was jailed in 1960 for trying to use a public library. I was jailed in 1963 going to the March on Washington for trying to use a public facility. I think about our journey from slave ships to championships, from 1948 to 2008–what a journey.
Jackie Robinson broke into the ranks of the white major leagues in 1947, before there was a NBA or NFL as we know them today. He, along with Jesse Owens and his victory in Berlin, and Joe Louis in his defeat of Max Schmeling, carried so much of our weight on their shoulders. They changed the cultural expectations. Our Samsons beat their Goliaths. We rejoiced and named our children after them.
Then the 1954 court triumph that ended legal apartheid, followed by ten years of test cases in Montgomery, Little Rock and all across the South, culminating in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Then the shift from seeking equal protection under the law to seeking empowerment. A blow was landed by Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964. Then the battle for the right to vote and the Voting Rights Act. White women couldn’t serve on juries. Farmers who couldn’t pay poll taxes couldn’t vote–Selma. Eighteen-year-olds got the right to vote in 1970–Selma. In 1974, student residency, you can vote where you go to school–Selma. 1975, bilingual voting–Selma. 1990, the Disabilities Act–Selma. All of these victories were rooted in that defining moment in Selma, Alabama.
The 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns sought to break down barriers and democratized the primary system by changing the rules so delegates were elected on a proportional basis, not winner-take-all. The campaigns generated a multitude of newly registered rainbow voters.