In January 2007 the Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke at the University of South Florida in Tampa. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports, Jackson’s lecture, called “Making the American Dream A Reality,” is part of USF’s week-long celebration of the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Jackson told the community that for a long period of American history, there was legal degradation of Africans. For example, the Constitution counts blacks as three-fifths human. Jackson said that this legal degradation was accompanied by name degradation, the use of derogatory epithets. But Africans fought back and gained respect, as seen in uplifting music. Jackson feels that those gains could be slipping away.
“Songs like “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Songs like “Happy Birthday MLK Jr,” “Lift Up Your Voice and Sing.” We can’t go from those songs back to calling ourselves “nigger.” We must lift ourselves above degradation. We cannot [inaudible] degradation even if it sells on the marketplace. It took too long to build a wall of dignity to then tear the wall down and sell the wall, sell the bricks for profit.”
Another issue that Jackson addressed was education. Because of government’s failure to fund education and out-of-control tuition increases at colleges like USF, Jackson said that it is becoming impossible for some students to go to college. Instead, they have to go to war.
“Between the tax cuts for the very wealthy at the top and the $500 billion investment in the war in Iraq and the off budget war, we begin to cut back on affordable education. So, we have an unfunded mandate on Leave No Child Behind [sic]. We’ve cut $12 billion in Pell Grants. So, many youth at this school can’t get the support that they need. And right now it is easier to go to war and kill or be killed than it is to go to college.”
Jackson called for free or inexpensive higher education and for universal access to health care. These two themes came together when Jackson explained that the reason he sees many Indian and Pakistani doctors in the United States is because those countries pay for higher education.
“In India, they pay them 40-thousand a year to go to med school. Here it costs 120 thousand to go. So we make smart bombs, they make smart doctors. It’s time for a change in priorities. (applause).
Jackson was a presidential candidate in 1984 and 88. He called for the voting process to be made more democratic, including automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who have served their sentences and for a citizen’s right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. He feels that the reason that these changes have not been implemented is because some groups want to suppress the votes of minorities.
“In Florida there are 630,000 Floridians who lost their permanent right to vote. Once one has served one’s time, there should be no barriers to job restoration and voter restoration. So we’ve seen these manipulative schemes that have allowed Iraqi-Americans to vote by satellite from America to Baghdad, but couldn’t vote by satellite from Atlanta or Houston to New Orleans. Two sets of rules. And their scheme is if they could get a 10-15% shaving of the black or the brown vote, it’s enough for them to win. It’s all tactical.”
Jackson is the President and Founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which fights for political and economic empowerment, equality, education, and social justice. He spoke about the need to end the occupation of Iraq and about the importance of Affirmative Action, which he says is a program that helps level the playing field for women and people of color, who make up the majority of the country.
Jackson used the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan to show that people should transcend racism. To illustrate a modern manifestation of this, he gave two examples from the Rodney King incident.
“You know about Rodney King not because of his crime, but because a white photographer filmed it, named George Halliday. He heard the cries, he looked out his window and he could have said, “They caught the nigger in our neighborhood. He shouldn’t be here” He could have said, “all those police couldn’t be wrong.” He went beyond color and culture up to character. … A white man came named Reginald Denny. And four blacks snatched him from the truck, they were going to beat him to death. And four young blacks who did not know each other saw it on tv. And they ran from their own homes and saved him from them. Beyond color, beyond culture, is character. Happy birthday Dr. Martin Luther King.”
For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane