Jesse Jackson

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If my mind can conceive it, if my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it.

The Reverend Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. (born Jesse Louis Burns; October 8, 1941) is an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and politician. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. He is the founder of the organizations that merged to form Rainbow/PUSH.


  • I am somebody.
    I am a somebody.
    I am a child of God.
    I may not be educated but I am somebody.
    I may not have any money but I am somebody.
    I may not eat steak every day but I am somebody.
    I may not look the way you look but I am somebody.
    • Prayer during the Poor People's Campaign march in Washington, DC (21 May 1968)
  • Politicians argue for abortion largely because they do not want to spend the necessary money to feed, clothe and educate more people... There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life. I do not share that view... That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to concerned.
  • If my mind can conceive it, if my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it because I am somebody!
    Respect me! Protect me! Never neglect me!
    I am somebody!
    My mind is a pearl! I can learn anything in the world!
    Nobody can save us, from us, for us, but us!
    I can learn. It is possible.
    I ought to learn. It is moral.
    I must learn. It is imperative.
    • Speech at Anderson College in Anderson, Indiana (4 March 1979), quoted in Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith (1987) by David G. Myers and Malcolm A. Jeeves. The first sentence is a modification of a quote by Napoleon Hill: "Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."
  • That's all Hymie wants to talk about is Israel. Every time you go to Hymietown that's all they want to talk about.
    • Remark to Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman (25 January 1984), using an anti-semitic slur. See Coleman (10 April 1984) "A good reporter must put ethics ahead of other considerations" The Milwaukee Journal
  • You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you're qualified and hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. America will get better and better. Keep hope alive!
    • "Keep Hope Alive", speech at the Democratic National Convention (19 July 1988)
  • There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.... After all we have been through. Just to think we can't walk down our own streets, how humiliating.
    • Remarks at a meeting of Operation PUSH in Chicago (27 November 1993). Quoted in "Crime: New Frontier - Jesse Jackson Calls It Top Civil-Rights Issue" by Mary A. Johnson, 29 November 1993, Chicago Sun-Times (ellipsis in original). Partially quoted in "In America; A Sea Change On Crime" by Bob Herbert, 12 December 1993, New York Times.
  • We need a regime change in this country.... If we launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq we lose all moral authority.
  • See, Barack been, um, talking down to black people on this faith-based... I want to cut his nuts off. Barack, he's talking down to black people.
    • Jesse Jackson, thinking his mic was off, on Obama's faith-based initiative, while on Fox News Channel; [1]
  • Schools across the country celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day today... Many schools show his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, a speech given before hundreds of thousands... Dr. King's commitment provides a wonderful example for all of us, but particularly for the young. By the wisdom of his teaching, the justice of his cause, the intensity of his commitment, he helped transform America. Today, Dr. King's example is more important than ever. Inequality has reached new extremes. We have a president that purposefully rouses racial and ethnic fears and divisions. Politics has become bitter, partisan, and increasingly marked by extreme and often hateful rhetoric. We are spending more and more on the Pentagon—already the largest military budget by far in the world—and cutting back on programs for the vulnerable, everything from food stamps, to Medicaid, to public housing and aid for poor schools and students. We end up with guided missiles and misguided young people—a tragic waste. Today, a new Poor People’s Campaign is building, organizing lines of race, region, and religion. It has been marching on state legislatures and now is increasing pressure on Washington. It is not about right or left, but about right and wrong. Dr. King called on us to express the better angels of our souls. Now, as we celebrate his life, we would do well to put his lessons into practice.
    • Jesse Jackson (20 January 2020) Dr. King Called On Us to Express the Better Angels of Our Souls Chicago Sun Times

Address to the Democratic National Convention (1984)

  • This is not a perfect party. We are not a perfect people. Yet, we are called to a perfect mission. Our mission: to feed the hungry; to clothe the naked; to house the homeless; to teach the illiterate; to provide jobs for the jobless; and to choose the human race over the nuclear race.
  • No generation can choose the age or circumstance in which it is born, but through leadership it can choose to make the age in which it is born an age of enlightenment, an age of jobs, and peace, and justice. Only leadership -- that intangible combination of gifts, the discipline, information, circumstance, courage, timing, will and divine inspiration -- can lead us out of the crisis in which we find ourselves. Leadership can mitigate the misery of our nation. Leadership can part the waters and lead our nation in the direction of the Promised Land. Leadership can lift the boats stuck at the bottom.
  • America is not like a blanket -- one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay, and the disabled make up the American quilt.
  • We are co-partners in a long and rich religious history -- the Judeo-Christian traditions. Many blacks and Jews have a shared passion for social justice at home and peace abroad. We must seek a revival of the spirit, inspired by a new vision and new possibilities. We must return to higher ground. We are bound by Moses and Jesus, but also connected with Islam and Mohammed. These three great religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, were all born in the revered and holy city of Jerusalem.
  • The Rainbow is making room for the Native American, the most exploited people of all, a people with the greatest moral claim amongst us. We support them as they seek the restoration of their ancient land and claim amongst us. We support them as they seek the restoration of land and water rights, as they seek to preserve their ancestral homeland and the beauty of a land that was once all theirs. They can never receive a fair share for all they have given us. They must finally have a fair chance to develop their great resources and to preserve their people and their culture.
  • The Rainbow is making room for the young Americans. Twenty years ago, our young people were dying in a war for which they could not even vote. Twenty years later, young America has the power to stop a war in Central America and the responsibility to vote in great numbers. Young America must be politically active in 1984. The choice is war or peace. We must make room for young America.
  • The Rainbow is making room for small farmers. They have suffered tremendously under the Reagan regime. They will either receive 90 percent parity or 100 percent charity. We must address their concerns and make room for them. The Rainbow includes lesbians and gays. No American citizen ought be denied equal protection from the law.
  • Rising tides don't lift all boats, particularly those stuck at the bottom. For the boats stuck at the bottom there's a misery index. This Administration has made life more miserable for the poor. Its attitude has been contemptuous. Its policies and programs have been cruel and unfair to working people. They must be held accountable in November for increasing infant mortality among the poor. In Detroit one of the great cities of the western world, babies are dying at the same rate as Honduras, the most underdeveloped nation in our hemisphere. This Administration must be held accountable for policies that have contributed to the growing poverty in America. There are now 34 million people in poverty, 15 percent of our nation. 23 million are White; 11 million Black, Hispanic, Asian, and others -- mostly women and children. By the end of this year, there will be 41 million people in poverty. We cannot stand idly by. We must fight for a change now.
  • Young America, dream. Choose the human race over the nuclear race. Bury the weapons and don't burn the people. Dream -- dream of a new value system. Teachers who teach for life and not just for a living; teach because they can't help it. Dream of lawyers more concerned about justice than a judgeship. Dream of doctors more concerned about public health than personal wealth. Dream of preachers and priests who will prophesy and not just profiteer. Preach and dream!
  • Our time has come. Our time has come. Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end, faith will not disappoint.
    Our time has come. Our faith, hope, and dreams will prevail. Our time has come. Weeping has endured for nights, but now joy cometh in the morning.
    Our time has come. No grave can hold our body down. Our time has come. No lie can live forever.
    Our time has come. We must leave racial battle ground and come to economic common ground and moral higher ground. America, our time has come. We come from disgrace to amazing grace.
    Our time has come. Give me your tired, give me your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free and come November, there will be a change because our time has come.

Address to the Democratic National Convention (July 19, 1988)

  • 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.
  • When we divide, we cannot win. We must find common ground as the basis for survival and development and change, and growth.
  • 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, gabardine, crockersack - only patches, barely good enough to wipe off your shoes with. But 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. Now, Democrats, we must build such a quilt.
  • 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 enough.
  • 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 a few.
  • 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 disguise.
  • 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. Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end 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.


  • We've removed the ceiling above our dreams. There are no more impossible dreams.
    • As quoted in The Independent (9 June 1988)


  • ("Who are today's black heroes?") MA: Jesse Jackson is one. And any person who's really intent on making this a better country for all the people. Not a divisive person.
  • "Jesse Jackson's advent was really very important", Baldwin told me. "And this is for two reasons at least. One of them was that though he knew he could not possibly become president-which says a great deal about American society-he did get a great many people out to vote. This includes white people, not only those whites who voted against him, but those whites who voted for him". He pauses and smiles: "There is another America beneath Time Magazine. And he is also important because of his global presence. The American government did not like at all what he did in Syria and they don't like what he is doing in South Africa".
    • 1985 interview in Conversations with James Baldwin edited by Louis H. Pratt and Fred L. Standley (1989)
  • A portrait of Jesse Jackson hung in our hallway.
    • Cori Bush The Forerunner: A Story of Pain and Perseverance in America (2022), p 12 about her childhood
  • Jesse Jackson came by and said he wants to endorse me. I look on this with some doubt, because he generally makes his living criticizing people, not supporting them.
But if you harm this brother, I warn you in the name of Allah, this will be the last one you harm. ~ Louis Farrakhan.
  • Most Americans realize that the black civil rights revolution of the late Fifties and early Sixties effectively began with Dr. Martin Luther King's successful bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. This tool is being perfected, for blacks, by the Reverend Jesse Jackson in Chicago. Our own nationwide grape boycott is hurting corporate agriculture so much that the growers are eventually going to have to deal with us, no matter how hard the power class tries to weaken the boycott's effectiveness.
    • Cesar Chavez "Sharing the Wealth" 1970 essay for Playboy, anthologized in An Organizer’s Tale (2008)
  • I think he has indeed learned that he must take his leadership from grass-roots movements, and that, in my mind is what is most impressive about Jesse Jackson. In 1984 at the very beginning of the campaign, if he had talked about gays and lesbians, he probably would have had little to say, but as a result of that interaction that has occurred over the last period, he felt comfortable enough to raise that issue at the Democratic Convention in front of millions and millions of people.
    • 1988 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
  • As Jesse Jackson told me as he marched with students and their unionized teachers in Madison during the Wisconsin uprising of 2011: "Dr. King's last act on Earth, marching in Memphis, Tennessee, was about workers' rights to collective bargaining... You cannot remove the roof for the wealthy and remove the floor for the poor."
    • Amy Goodman Democracy Now!: Twenty Years Covering the Movements Changing America (2017) p 175
  • Sit down and talk to Rev. Jackson. Sit down, Jewish leaders, and talk with us. We are ready to talk with you. Sit down and talk like intelligent people who have a future at stake.
  • But if you harm this brother, I warn you in the name of Allah, this will be the last one you harm. We are not making any idle threats. We have no weapons. We carry not so much as a penknife. But I do tell the world that Almighty God Allah is backing us up in what we say and what we do, and we warn you in His name, leave this servant of Almighty God alone.
  • People must have a channel through which they can express themselves if there is to be any hope that they will transcend the sense of powerlessness and apathy encouraged by our dominant ideological myths. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition has come closest in recent times to serving as this kind of channel. One could see a glimmer of the possibilities for the future, watching the young people who were Jesse Jackson delegates at the Democratic conventions in 1984 and 1988. Many had never participated in any political movement before, and you could see how the Jackson campaign had opened things up for them and gave a whole new dimension to their lives. The Rainbow Coalition has had its share of internal problems, but it has been far more successful than any of the more explicitly ideological groups on the Left in teaching people to give an affirmative answer to the old Biblical question, "Am I my brothers [and sisters] keeper?"
  • I think that Jesse Jackson's run for the Presidency is something crucial and very, very important. I totally disagree with those people who say that he's fracturing the black vote. I think that the objections to him have not held water. At this point all of us have to support anything that would galvanize the black community and recognize how disenfranchised they are, to begin to take part in the voting process. Understand the importance of it. On the other hand, to make a man "the leader" creates a real problem: utter dependence on "the leadership." There will come a leader who will lead us out of Babylon. That's very dangerous. I see that political liberation is not possible until each one of us begins to think of ourselves as power principles, as a nest of power relative to other people's power, of course. Until we become self activated, we're never really going to change things. We have to stop waiting for someone, a leader, to come up and tell us what to do. That leader is also at our mercy. What happens when that leader is shot down? What happens when that leader is called an embezzler, a prostitute or a lesbian or gay? It's dangerous.
    • 1983 interview in Conversations with Audre Lorde (2004)
  • Do you know what the words "African American" really imply? That the person doesn't have the natural right to be there, so that whatever right they have has to be given to them. John Kennedy's daddy spent his whole life and a whole lot of money trying to keep from becoming (called) half Native American. For blacks to get control of the set-asides, the black elite deliberately set up this African American thing. Jesse Jackson called a meeting a long time ago of elite blacks, determined to use this term. The majority of blacks hated this term with a passion, but the media is pushing it down their throats.
  • Shaping a platform for a political party when you didn't win the nomination is not an easy task. The last runner-up in the Democratic primaries to contest the writing of the Democratic platform was Jesse Jackson, in 1988. Reverend Jackson ran an extraordinary and historic campaign that year, one that not only changed the nature of politics in America but helped create a new multiracial progressive movement. During his campaign, Jackson won nearly 7 million votes. I was proud to endorse his campaign and happy that he won the Vermont primary that year. Unfortunately, however, very few of his progressive positions were incorporated into the Democratic Party platform of 1988.

"America in Confrontation with Democracy, or, the Meaning of the Jesse Jackson Campaign", June Jordan


In Technical Difficulties (1988)

  • Given the unexpected, hard-won success of Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign, the Third American Revolution may well be on its way. Certainly, the phenomenon of a Black man bidding for the most powerful office in the world has raised, irreversibly, the expectations of Americans who, prior to Jackson's candidacy, never even dreamed about accurate, or responsive, political representation. The compelling personal history of Jesse Jackson must inspire the least powerful and the most despised segments of our body politic.
  • white media reporting on Jackson's campaign failed to disseminate even halfway fair, or accurate, accounts of his proposals, or live audience response to his ideas, until the very beginning of 1988. In short, national white media colluded with Democratic party bosses to silence, to slander, and, finally, to stop Jesse Jackson.
  • But media apart, hundreds and then thousands and thousands of white and black Americans found themselves standing in front of this indisputably charismatic orator. From his own mouth they understood that, regardless of ethnic or regional or age identity, they would have to surrender nothing in order to gain a great deal: alliance need not produce merger or submergence. Even racist habits of mind became beside the point-you could vote for "the nigger" not because you wanted a Black man in your family but because you thought he might save your family farm. Counted multitudes of white Americans eschewed stupidities of racist reflex for the sake of their own self-interest. More and more listening Americans realized that you don't have to be Black to become "an outsider" in your own native land: our democracy.
  • Twenty years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend Jesse Jackson was standing up, by popular vote, the front-runner Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States. This was the situation for more than half of the official primary season! He was standing on the principled vision of his predecessor, whose humanity had persuaded an awesome number of white Americans to reexamine their notions about "minority" and "majority" issues. Was hunger a Black problem or an American disgrace? Was equal access to good housing and education a Black demand or a necessity inside a democratic state? Was "Jobs or Income" an unreasonable, left-wing slogan or a matter of human survival? I look upon the political phenomenon of Jesse Jackson as vindication of Dr. King's deepest faith in our collective potential as a democracy. And, what's more, Jackson's own radiant temerity in the face of negligible funding, press censorship, and attack has elicited the respect, and restored the activist self-respect, of a new American majority: a multiracial populist coalition of citizens intent upon the humane expansion of their citizen entitlements.
  • I remember a friend of mine telling me that when, in 1984, at the Democratic National Convention, Jesse spoke on behalf of lesbians, that moment was absolutely the first occasion on which she had heard "a politician say my name, he said the word, lesbian."
  • Jackson was the first presidential candidate, 1988, to plead and repeat the plight of 650,000 American farmers losing their farms within the eight years of Reagan's reign. He was the first to identify drugs as the number one menace to domestic security. He was the first and only American contender for the U.S. presidency to demand that South Africa be designated a terrorist state and treated accordingly. He was the first and only candidate to call the name of the Palestinian people; he said the words the Palestinians, and he called for self-determination, and statehood, for these beleaguered, taboo human beings. Jesse Jackson was the first and only candidate for the Democratic nomination to assert that there must be a single standard for the measurement, and protection, of human rights throughout the world: No country-not France nor Israel nor Nigeria nor South Korea nor Iran nor South Africa should be exempted from the requirements of that single standard. He was the first and only presidential contender to propose a world view profoundly alternative to the traditions of imperialist perspective. Jackson proposed that the majority of human life / the peoples of the Third World be accorded proportionate political respect, economic aid, and inventive consideration as potential social and economic partners. No longer should the Third World serve as a playpen for greedy, killer interventionist maneuvers by aging cold warriors. And he was the first and the only Republican or Democratic candidate to propose an international minimum wage.
  • they attempted to clear the mythical American mainstream of his contamination: he was "radical" and "harebrained" and "naïve," even though American opinion polls taken during Reagan's reign repeatedly showed, for example, most Americans opposed to intervention in Central America, and opposed to collaboration with Pretoria.
  • American powers threatened by the content and the constituency of Jackson's campaign had little to do with asinine prejudice or any other emotional disorder: Antidemocratic-politics-as-usual and the Democratic national party and multi-national corporations and the American banking community and the American Medical Association and the Pentagon and right-wing fundamentalists rightly assessed Jackson's explosive arrival as a comprehensive, coherent, programmatic, moral, and populist rejection of government unrelated to the welfare of the governed, of labor at the mercy of "the marketplace," of the sick kneeling to those who should heal them, of the weak systematically abandoned to the streets and the bully violence of random/crackpot America.
  • America is not the same old anything it was, prior to the 1988 leadership of Jesse Jackson...Jackson has transformed the nature and the substance of acceptable political discourse in America.
  • Up against Dukakis and the Democratic party, Jackson set the agenda for the platform debate. And, while many of the demands of his program met with resolute derision, he did succeed in gaining the Democratic party's designation of South Africa as a terrorist state, and he did push Dukakis into a posture of unequivocal opposition to aid to the contras, unequivocal support for child care, and, alas, equivocal support for universal health insurance. He did embarrass the Democrats into public refusal to establish a "no first strike" nuclear policy, and he did force the Democratic Party to reduce by 50 percent the number of "Super-delegates" who will be anointed for the next presidential election campaign. He did, irreversibly, tutor American consciousness about the continuing anti-democratic political structures that block our decisive exercise of the vote, and he did, again, embarrass Dukakis into publicly waffling on Dukakis's own promise to fund a nationwide voter registration drive and to vastly simplify the whole voting registration process. He did lead the reentry of concepts of right and wrong back into the center of political deliberations. He did meet with Israel's ambassador to the United States, August 8, 1988, and Israel's ambassador to the United States did meet, August 8, 1988, for more than two hours, with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and, you know, Jesse just really came really, really close to opening up the White House to the world's best barbecue and general/populist celebration of all time. And as for those millions and millions of us who chose Jesse Jackson as our candidate, we would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to notice how much we scared the currently powerful: literally, we scared them almost to death!
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