Jesse Jackson's speech: a ringing finale to a historic bid for America's highest office

It was a poignant and exhilarating moment of history. An American black, a descendant of slaves, stood before a political convention and in ringing words asked the delegates to vote for him for nominee for president of the United States.

If he did not win the nomination, he added, he would support the winning candidate.

The man was the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson. And his presence on the red, white, and blue podium of the Democratic National Convention this week wrote a dramatic new chapter in America's struggle for racial equality.

Black and white delegates cheered and whistled as Mr. Jackson stepped up to deliver his unity address. In a show of harmony, Mondale and Hart delegates put down their signs and the hall became a sea of bobbing green Jesse Jackson placards.

The Baptist minister, in a blend of emotions, was triumphant, contrite, proud.

''This camaign has taught me much: that leaders must be tough enough to fight , tender enough to cry, human enough to make mistakes, humble enough to admit them, strong enough to absorb the pain, and resilient enough to bounce back and keep on moving,'' he told the crowd in the stirring evangelical style that is his hallmark. ''For leaders the pain is often intense. But you must smile through tears and keep moving with the faith that there is a brighter side somewhere.''

A Chicago civil rights leader who has never held public office, Jackson is the first black man to have mounted a major campaign for the presidential nomination. He has spurred black registration. And his support for Walter Mondale is needed to bring out the black vote.

But Jackson came to San Francisco fiercely arguing that the party's delegate selection rules denied him a fair share of delegates. He received a strong 18 percent of the popular vote in the primaries. But he had less than 10 percent of the delegates.

He sought changes in voting laws. He wanted to eliminate the caucus sytem, the winner-take-all election of delegates by district, and the category of unpledged party official delegates. But he - and Sen. Gary Hart - won only a rules committee decision to set up a new commission to study party changes for 1988.

Jackson also lost a platform change that would have eliminated runoff primaries, a system he says discriminates against black candidates. And on the sensitive issue of affirmative action he agreed with Mondale to drop reference to racial ''quotas'' in the platform in favor of ''verifiable measures.''

Initially there was concern that Jackson would disrupt the convention. But he moved into a conciliatory stance.

''There is a time to sow and a time to reap,'' he thundered. ''There is a time to compete and a time to cooperate.''

''Jes-se! Jes-se!'' chanted his supporters.

As he had done countless times before, he castigated President Reagan: ''He has cut food stamps, children's breakfast and lunch programs, the WIC program for pregnant mothers and infants, and then he says, 'Let us pray.' In a prayer, you are supposed to thank God for the food you are about to receive, not for the food that just left.''

Laughter rippled through the audience.

He pleaded with his listeners to ''come together.'' Seeking to mitigate the embarrassment caused Democrats by his fervid support of Arab nations, he called for cooperation between blacks and Jews in the face of racism and anti-Semitism. And he spoke to youth, to the poor, to the disadvantaged, of the ''right to dream'' and of a ''vision of a better world.''

''Faith, hope, and dreams will prevail,'' he passionately intoned. ''Our time has come. Our time has come.''

His listeners were moved. When it was over the thousands of delegates, their hands linked and held high, rocked from side to side to the music of a gospel hymn. Tears were on the eyes of many blacks.

''For once I heard someone say something other than 'I promise,' '' said Della Harris, a volunteer political worker. ''I heard that we can dream and that my son can say, 'I can be anything I want to be.' ''

There was a glow on her face as she left the convention floor. And a wondering in her heart, she said, about what Jesse would do next. As he had told the gathering:

''God is not finished with me yet.''

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