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Jackson, Child of the Slums, Helps Others Stand Tall


Jesse Jackson is a disciple of Martin Luther King Junior. In Memphis in 1968, he cradled the dying civil rights pioneer in his arms. A preacher himself, Reverend Jackson twice ran for president, and he has led several sensitive international negotiations.

Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, calls Jesse Jackson "a friend of mine, somebody I've known well in Chicago. And he's really an amazing man, because he is motivated by one simple thing: He wants to make America better. He wants to ensure that equality -- not just for African Americans -- is really the song of the land. He begins to create a movement that has the political strength of a Martin Luther King, but also beginning to move toward more economic equality.

"While he is not the first black American to run for the presidency, he's really the first to have a legitimate shot, the first to be taken seriously. He has kicked down the door of political possibility."

Jesse Jackson delivered these remarks after his name was placed in nomination for president at the Democratic convention in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1988:

"I wasn't always on television. I was born to a teenage mother who was born to a teenage 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. Every one of these labels they put on you in the projects, on the corners -- I understand. Call you 'outcast,' 'lowdown,' 'can't make it,' 'subclass,' 'underclass.'

"When you see Jesse Jackson, when my name goes in nomination, your name goes in nomination. I was born in the slum, but the slum was not born in me. And it wasn't born in you, and you can make it. 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. Don't you surrender. . . . We must never surrender. America will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive. I love you very much."

Lonnie Bunch calls this "one of the most optimistic speeches you will ever read in American history, because what Jesse Jackson is saying is that human beings who didn't have chances, if they worked hard, if they believed, if they kept hope alive, could not only change themselves, they could also change America."

This is one of a series of reports on Say it Plain, a collection of excerpts from 32 memorable speeches by notable African-Americans.

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