Michele Norris: From American Public Media

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Somewhere I read that the greatness of American is the right to protest for right.



This is an American RadioWorks documentary, Say it Plain - A Century of Great African American Speeches. I'm Michele Norris.

Barbara Jordan: "We, the people." It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed, on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people."

For generations, African Americans have called on their country to honor its founding principles.

Mary McLeod Bethune: We have fought for America with all her imperfections, not so much for what she is, but for what we know she can be.

Jesse Jackson: Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!

Over the next hour, Say it Plain the powerful voice of black political orators in the United States. From American RadioWorks. First this news.

Segment A

Michele Norris: This is Say it Plain, an American RadioWorks documentary from American Public Media. I'm Michele Norris.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.


Norris: When we hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak the magnetic cadence of his words just pulls us in. King was certainly the most famous black orator in history, but he was hardly alone. For generations, African Americans have been demanding justice and equality reminding America to make good on its founding principles. In the coming hour, we will listen to recordings of landmark speeches African Americans made over the past century. These orators, and the very act of speaking out, played a crucial role in the long struggle for equal rights.

James Horton: For almost all of the existence of African America, black people have been in a state of siege.

Norris: James Horton teaches history at George Washington University.

Horton: Sometimes the oppression was called slavery. Sometimes the oppression was called racial discrimination and Jim Crow. But always, the oppression took its toll on people. In order to survive under those circumstances, you had to have a certain kind of optimism - an optimism that could be inspired by leaders who would tell you: hang in there, there's going to be a better day. Who would tell you that your fate was not in the hands of the oppressor, but you're fate was in larger, more powerful hands. And what you had to do was to continue to resist and protest.

Norris: As we'll hear in this program, the sound of black political protest took on many styles, from high-brow elocution, to passionate preaching, to street-wise slang. The call for resistance reached a thunderous peak in the 1960s with the growing might of the civil rights movement. Some African Americans warned of violence, others spoke hard truths with humor.

Dick Gregory: I'd like to say thank you very much. And I'll tell you one thing, it sure is nice being out of that prison over there. Lot of people asked me when I went back to Chicago last night, they said, "Well how are the Negroes in Birmingham taking it? What did they act like? What did they look like?" I said, "Man, I got off a plane at 10:30, arrived at the motel at 11 and by one o'clock I was in jail."

Norris: May 6, 1963, Birmingham Alabama - More nonviolent civil-rights protesters are arrested than on any other day in American history. Comedian Dick Gregory led one of the first groups to get arrested for protesting racial segregation in Birmingham. The city's notorious police chief, Bull Connor, turned fire hoses and snarling police dogs on the peaceful demonstrators. Dick Gregory spent four days in jail. Shortly afterward, he spoke to a mass meeting in a Birmingham church.

Gregory: Man they had so many Negroes in jail over there, the day I was there, when you looked out the window and see one of them walking around free, you knew he was a tourist.

Horton: African Americans often found themselves in a situation not only of being oppressed, but also not being free to protest that oppression publicly. So the only way you could address that which all of your fellows understood, was often through humor - very amusing things with a very cutting message.

Gregory: That was some mighty horrible food they were giving us over there. First couple of days, it tasted bad and look bad and after that it tasted like home cooking. Matter of fact, by the third day it got so good that I asked one of the guards for the recipe.

Of course you know, really, I don't mind going to jail myself, I just hate to see Martin Luther King in jail. For various reasons: one, when the final day get here, he is going to have a hard time trying to explain to the boss upstairs how he spent more time in jail than he did in the pulpit. When I read in the paper in Chicago that they had him in jail on Good Friday, I said that's good. And I was praying and hoping that when they put him there on Good Friday and checked back on Easter Sunday morning, he would have been gone. That would have shook up a lot of people, wouldn't it?

Norris: Dick Gregory came from the urban North. As a professional comedian, he was used to saying provocative things in front of crowds. Another powerful voice in the 1960s emerged from a very different place: the fields of the Deep South.

Fannie Lou Hamer: Mr. Chairman, and to the Credentials Committee, my name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 626 E. Lafayette Street, Ruleville Mississippi.

Norris: Fannie Lou Hamer was a leader in Mississippi's voting rights movement. In 1964, Hamer went to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Mississippi's delegates were all white. She demanded to be seated as a delegate along with fellow members of the black Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. Television cameras rolled as Hamer told Democratic Party officials how she and others were punished for trying register blacks to vote.

Hamer: I was carried to the county jail and put in the booking room. They left some of the people in the booking room and began to place us in cells. I was placed in a cell with a young woman called Miss Ivesta Simpson. After I was placed in the cell, I began to hear sounds of licks and screams, I could hear the sounds of licks and horrible screams. And I could hear somebody say, "Can you say, 'yes, sir,' nigger? Can you say 'yes, sir'?"

And they would say other horrible names.

She would say, "Yes, I can say 'yes, sir.'"

"So, well, say it."

She said, "I don't know you well enough."

Horton: The thing that's really important to remember about Fannie Lou Hamer is that Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper.

Norris: Historian, James Horton.

Horton: She was poor. She was undereducated. She was a woman. And she was from Mississippi. And in Mississippi during the time that she lived, African Americans had virtually no rights.

Hamer: And it wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman, and he asked me where I was from. I told him Ruleville, and he said, "We are going to check this."

They left my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said, "You are from Ruleville all right," and he used a curse word. He said, "We are going to make you wish you was dead."

I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack.

The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face.

I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old.

After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack.

The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet - to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and told me to hush.

One white man - my dress had worked up high - he walked over and pulled my dress. I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back.

I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.

All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens. And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America: is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave? Where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?

Thank you.


Norris: Hamer was not seated until four years later at the 1968 democratic convention.

Fannie Lou Hamer and Dick Gregory are just two of the more familiar voices in the civil rights struggle. Uncounted others spoke out before them - generations of African Americans demanding to live as Americans.


The invention of audio recording in the late 1800s made it possible to capture the sound of black protest, and to hear how it changed over time.

Booker T. Washington: Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and Citizens:

One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race. No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this section can disregard this element of our population and reach the highest success.

Norris: One of the first African American speeches ever recorded was made by Booker T. Washington. In 1895, he spoke to the Atlanta Cotton Exposition. Washington was born a slave, yet he became one of the most influential African Americans of his time. He was a prominent educator and an advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Washington: The opportunity here afforded will awaken among us a new era of industrial progress.

Norris: In 1895, it was an extraordinary thing for a black man to address an audience of southern whites. But Washington delivered a welcome message. He urged blacks to pursue a modest program of self-improvement through skilled service and labor. Washington is difficult to hear through the scratchy haze of this old phonograph recording. But he was careful to appease his whites listeners, beseeching them to recognize how valuable the familiar, loyal black workforce could be.

Horton: From the standpoint of the African American at the end of the 19th century, this is not quite slavery, but it's only a few steps into freedom beyond slavery. And so he was saying, "Let down your buckets where you are." That is, "You know these black workers. You know they're good workers. Employ them."

Washington: Cast down your bucket among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides.

Horton: He's saying to white people that you should understand that African Americans in the South are people that you can depend on to help build a new society.

Washington: Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labor wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests.

Norris: Washington says, "Trust the people who have tilled your fields, cleared your forests, built your railroads and cities, brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible the Cotton Exposition's magnificent representation of the progress of the South."

Early phonographs were too primitive to capture a speech outdoors. So Booker T. Washington actually recorded the address years later. When he first gave the speech in Atlanta, the applause was thunderous. Former slaveholders gripped his hand. White women tossed flowers. Barbara Savage teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania. She says the audience was inspired by Washington's message, but also his delivery, which Washington knew was crucial.

Barbara Savage: Washington wants to sound like an educated person of civilized rank to disprove and dispute notions that African Americans are intellectually inferior, that they cannot share the public stage with educated and civilized white people. So every speech is an opportunity to counter that argument.


Norris: Twenty years later, a disciple of Washington's also demanded a better life for African Americans. The tone was far more defiant, but Marcus Garvey wasn't addressing whites.

Marcus Garvey: We want to unite the Negro race in this country. We want every Negro to work for one common object, that of building a nation of his own on the great continent of Africa.

Coming up: from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, Jr. I'm Michele Norris. You're listening to Say it Plain, A Century of Great African American Speeches from American RadioWorks. Stay with us - the program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.

Segment B

Michele Norris: This is Say it Plain, an American RadioWorks documentary from American Public Media. I'm Michele Norris.


Times were especially hard for African Americans in the first decades of the 20th century. Racial segregation was endemic, and lynching spread terror across the South. Still, black people spoke out. Some demanded the rights promised by American democracy. Others, like Marcus Garvey, argued that black people should turn their backs on white America.

Marcus Garvey: There are 400 million Africans in the world who have Negro blood coursing through their veins. And we believe that the time has come to unite these 400 million people for the one common purpose of bettering their condition. [fades under commentary]

Norris: Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican immigrant. In the 1920s, he led the largest black organization in America.

Garvey: I greet you in the name of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. [fades under commentary]

Norris: Marcus Garvey inspired millions of African Americans with the dream of a separate society built on black-owned business and industry. [fades under commentary]

Garvey: We want every Negro to work for one common object, that of building a nation of his own on the great continent of Africa.

Norris: Garvey was deeply influenced by Booker T. Washington's example of self-reliance, but he rejected the idea of gradual integration. Instead, he dreamed of a mass exodus to Africa. Historian James Horton says Garvey's greatest following was not in Washington's south, but in the urban North. And so Garvey struck a more militant tone.

Horton: He is saying some of the same things. He is saying blacks have to be self-supporting ... now Booker T. Washington said this too, but Booker T. Washington was saying it within the context of a Southern society which would not tolerate blacks being too independent, being too self-assertive, too critical of American society. But in New York, Marcus Garvey found a very different situation. And therefore his rhetoric reflects that situation.

Garvey: If you believe that the Negro has a soul, if you believe that the Negro is a man, if you believe the Negro was endowed with the senses commonly given to other men by the creator, then you must acknowledge that what other men have done, Negroes can do. We want to build up cities, nations, governments, industries of our own in Africa, so that we'll be able to have the chance to rise from the lowest to the highest positions in the African commonwealth.

Norris: Marcus Garvey never made it to his African promised land. His business schemes failed and the U.S. government first jailed and then deported him. Garvey was renowned as a fiery orator, but the two known recordings of his voice were made in a studio and sound rather flat.


By the dawn of World War II, the powerful new medium of radio could capture a speech and share it instantly with millions of people. In 1939, renowned educator and activist, Mary McLeod Bethune, spoke before a live audience on the meaning of democracy. Her words were broadcast across America.

Mary McLeod Bethune: Democracy is for me, and for 12 million black Americans, is a goal toward which our nation is marching. It is a dream and an ideal in whose ultimate realization we have a deep and abiding faith. For me, it is based on Christianity, in which we confidently entrust our destiny as a people. Under God's guidance in this great democracy, we are rising out of the darkness of slavery into the light of freedom.

Norris: Mary McLeod Bethune was the daughter of former slaves. She and her 16 siblings grew up picking cotton. But Bethune was determined to escape illiteracy. She founded a black college in Florida and became one of the most influential civil rights activists in the New Deal era. Bethune was good friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and dined with her at the White House.

James Cone teaches black theology and history at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

James Cone: The fact that she has a relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt - close relationship wit her - meant that she had to address the problem of injustice in the black community in such a way that it did not offend white people in high places but who were open to hearing about obvious injustices.

Bethune: We have always been loyal when the ideals of American democracy have been attacked. We have given our blood in its defense - from Crispus Attucks on Boston Commons, to the battlefields of France. We have fought for the democratic principles of equality under the law, equality of opportunity, equality at the ballot box, for the guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have fought to preserve one nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Yes, we have fought for America with all her imperfections, not so much for what she is, but for what we know she can be.

Perhaps the greatest battle is before us, the fight for a new America: fearless, free, united, morally re-armed, in which 12 millions [sic] Negroes, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Americans, will strive that this nation under God will have a new birth of freedom. And that government of the people, for the people, and by the people shall not perish from the earth. This dream, this idea, this aspiration, this is what American democracy means to me.


Norris: By the 1960s, a long line of African American speakers had followed Mary McLeod Bethune in the quest for civil rights. Over time, some of them lost faith.

Stokely Carmichael: Now, several people have been upset because we've said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks, and that in fact it was a subterfuge, an insidious subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy.

Norris: The young civil rights organizer, Stokely Carmichael was initially a protégé of Martin Luther King, Jr. But after watching peaceful demonstrators brutalized in the South, Carmichael came to see integration as an empty dream. In 1966, he spoke to college students in Berkeley, California.

Carmichael: Now we maintain that in the past six years or so, this country has been feeding us a "thalidomide drug of integration," and that some Negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people. And that that does not begin to solve the problem.

James Cone: See, Stokeley Carmchael has been an integrationist. He worked at that for about six years before he moved to this Black Power, nationalist tradition. So he had profound experience in seeing that white people are not going to respond to the freedom that black people are struggling for. So there's no need now to appeal to the conscience of white people. Because, as Malcom X said, white people have no conscience.

Carmichael: I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black, I am a human being. Therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn't know that. Every time I tried to go into a place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, "He's a human being; don't stop him." That bill was for the white man, not for me. I knew it all the time. I knew it all the time.

I knew that I could vote and that that wasn't a privilege, it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill for white people to tell them, "When a black man comes to vote, don't bother him." That bill, again, was for white people, not for black people. So that when you talk about open occupancy I know I can live anyplace I want to live. It is white people across this country who are incapable of allowing me to live where I want to live. You need a civil rights bill, not me. I know I can live where I want to live.


Norris: Stokely Carmichael gave up trying to live in America and moved to West Africa. But the preeminent voice of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., demanded justice in America until the day he died. On April 3, 1968, Rev. King led a march in Memphis, Tennessee protesting low pay for black garbage collectors. A local court issued an injunction against a second march planned for the following day. In a mass meeting at a black church in Memphis, King urged his people on.

King: Now we're going to march again, and we've got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be, and force everybody to see that there are 1,300 of God's children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That's the issue. And we've got to say to the nation: we know it's coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

Cone: Even though he's speaking only to black people that night, his message is for the world.

Norris: Theologian James Cone.

Cone: See, great speaking comes when your audience can feel their presence in what you're talking about. And King made the world feel present in what he was taking about. That's what makes him so powerful. And that's why Martin King's father, Daddy King, said that Martin Luther King Jr. does not belong to us. He belongs to the world.

King: All we say to America is, "Be true to what you said on paper." If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn't committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. [cheers from crowd] So just as I say we aren't letting any dogs or fire hoses turn us around, we aren't going to let any injunction turn us around. [cheers]

Norris: Martin Luther King Jr. made this speech on the eve of his assassination. King was always aware of threats to his life, and often spoke of them. This night, King told his listeners of the time several years earlier when a mentally-disturbed woman stabbed him in the chest. Doctors told King that if he had sneezed on the way to the hospital, he would have died.

King: And I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn't sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around here util 1960, when students all over the South started sitting in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream. And taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been around util 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent. [cheers from crowd] If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had. If I had sneezed, [cheers] I wouldn't have been down in Selma, Alabama to see the great movement there. If I had sneezed, I wouldn't have been in Memphis to see the community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering. I'm so happy that I didn't sneeze.

[laughs and applause]

And they were telling me, now it doesn't matter now. It really doesn't matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane - there were six of us - the pilot said over the public address system, "We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we've had the plane protected and guarded all night."

And then I got in to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. [cheers] And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.


Norris: The next evening, that great voice was silenced. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.


Coming up, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and Jesse Jackson:

Jesse Jackson: When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground, we'll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs [fades under commentary]

You're listening to Say it Plain, A Century of Great African American Speeches from American RadioWorks. I'm Michele Norris.

Host: Major funding for American RadioWorks is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Support for this program comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities. A companion book and CD for Say It Plain is available from the New Press. To find out more about the book, and about the legacy of political speech making by African Americans, visit our web site at Say It Plain continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.

Segment C


Michele Norris: This is Say it Plain, an American RadioWorks documentary from American Public Media. I'm Michele Norris.

In the second half of the 20th century, African Americans increasingly moved into mainstream positions of power. Protesters became politicians, activists became administrators. Many black people complained that the pace of this progress was too slow. Still, African Americans could use their growing authority to air a widening array of concerns.

Shirley Chisholm: An increasing number of black women are beginning to feel that it is important first to become free as women in order to contribute more fully to the task of black liberation.

Norris: Shirley Chisholm made history as the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm was the strong-minded child of working-class parents in Brooklyn. She was a school teacher before entering politics. In 1972, she became the first African American to make a serious run for the presidency. Chisholm lost the democratic nomination, but continued to fight for a better place for black women in the civil rights struggle and in national politics. In 1974, Chisholm spoke at a conference on the role of black women in America.

Chisholm: Some feel that black men - like all men, or most men - have placed women in the stereotypes of domestics whose duty it is to stay in the background - cook, clean, have babies, and leave all of the glory to men. [laughter] Black women point to the civil rights movement as an example of a subtle type of male oppression, where with few exceptions, black women have not had active roles in the forefront of the fight. Yet, because of the oppression of black women, they are strongest in the fight for liberation. They have led the struggle to fight against white male supremacy, dating from slavery times. In view of these many facts, it is not surprising that black women played a crucial role in the total fight for freedom in this nation.

James Cone: It took courage for Shirley Chisholm not only to challenge the country to take her seriously, but to challenge the black community and particularly the black male hierarchy in the civil rights movement ... to take her seriously.

Norris: Theologian James Cone:

Cone: And it was like saying to the black community, 'take the women's movement seriously.' ... She is a moment in the women's movement, in the black community and in America before the voice of black women is really sharp and militant.

Chisholm: I stand here tonight to tell to you, my sisters, that if you have the courage of your convictions, you must stand up and be counted. I hope that the day will come in America when this business of male versus female does not become such an overriding issue, so that the talents and abilities that the almighty God have given to people can be utilized for the benefit of humanity.

Norris: Shirley Chisholm remained a powerful and independent voice in Congress until she retired in 1982. Another pioneering black woman made her mark in Washington during one of the biggest political crises in 20th century America. Barbara Jordan was the daughter of a Baptist minister in Texas. She was a champion debater in college and the first black Texan elected to Congress since Reconstruction. In 1974, Jordan sat on the House Watergate committee considering impeachment charges against President Richard Nixon. Jordan made a statement in the public hearings that were broadcast on prime-time television. Afterward, she was praised for giving a measured, eloquent lesson on the Constitutional principles at stake.

Barbara Jordan: Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, "We, the people". It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed, on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We, the people".

Today I am an inquisitor. An hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution.

Cone: Barbara Jordan is speaking not just for herself, but all the other excluded people in this country, who have used the Constitution to make America take us seriously. For her, it's not a minor thing when you violate the Constitution, because we've been working for centuries to get America to live up to what it puts on the paper. We are not then going to let the president of the United States violate it in such a way that it doesn't count.

Jordan: The Constitution charges the president with the task of taking care that the laws be faithfully executed, and yet the president has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, concealed surreptitious entry, attempted to compromise a federal judge while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice.

"A president is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution."

If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th century paper shredder.

Has the president committed offenses, and planned, and directed, and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? That's the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

Norris: Two days after her statement, Barbara Jordan and her colleagues on the House Watergate committee voted to impeach President Nixon. When Jordan died in 1996, President Bill Clinton said that the truth she spoke and the power of her voice stirred the nation's conscience.


Jesse Jackson: 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.


[fades under commentary]

Norris: In the 1980s, the Rev. Jesse Jackson campaigned for the ultimate power position: president of the United States. Jackson was known in the civil rights movement as an ambitious young organizer and a talented orator. Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988 sought to unite people of different backgrounds into what Jackson called a Rainbow Coalition. In 1988 he spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

Jackson: 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 and 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.

Farmers, you seek fair prices and you are right, but you cannot stand alone. Your patch is not big enough.

Workers, you fight for fair wages, you are right, but your patch, labor, is not big enough.

Women, you seek comparable worth and pay equity, you are right, but your patch is not big enough.


Women, mothers, who seek Head Start and day care and prenatal care on the front side of life, relevant jail care and welfare on the back side of life, you are right, but your patch is not big enough.

Students, you seek scholarships, you are right, but your patch is not big enough.

Blacks and Hispanics, when we fight for civil rights, we are right, but our patch is not big enough.

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.

But don't despair. Be as wise as my grandmama. Pull the patches and the pieces together, bound by a common thread. When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground, we'll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs and education and hope to our Nation.


We, the people, can win.

Norris: Jesse Jackson did not win the Democratic presidential nomination that summer. It was the last time he tried. Jackson belongs to a generation of orators raised in the Civil Rights era. Theologian James Cone says it's harder now for African American speakers to be heard without a strong, enduring movement behind them.

Cone: Now there are a lot of great black speakers who can speak to their own people, in very effective ways. But it's hard to find them who can cross over, and be as effective for other groups as they are for their own. And that's because there is not a movement today that sets a context for that kind of powerful speaking. So you don't see a black like King ... that actually speak beyond themselves. ... But there are a few out there who at certain moments can speak.

Barack Obama: Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America.

Norris: In the summer of 2004, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama spoke to the Democratic National Convention. Obama's father was from Kenya and mother from Kansas. He carried forward the unifying theme of common ground that Jesse Jackson used in 1988.

Obama: The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes we've got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported the war in Iraq. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

Norris: Barack Obama says his father moved from Africa to the United States with the dream of being accepted into American culture. Historian James Horton says that much of America's progress toward that dream of acceptance, that dream of equality, came from generations of African Americans speaking out.

James Horton: This struggle for equality and the struggle for civil rights is as old as America itself, and older. When America said to the world why it was separating itself from Great Britain, slaves petitioned this new America, agreeing that freedom was desirable and was the right of all people, and demanding freedom for themselves. All through American history, slaves and the newly freed and the oppressed freed said over and over again to America, "Be true to your roots. Stand by your sacred pronouncements on behalf of human liberty."


Norris: Say it Plain was written and produced by Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith and edited by Catherine Winter. Production help from Ellen Guettler, Misha Quill, Sasha Aslanian, Melody Ng, Nate Hall, Neil Tassoni, Carey Biron, Bente Birkeland, and Samantha Kennedy. The web producer is Ochen Kaylan. Special thanks to scholars James Horton, James Cone, Barbara Savage, David Levering Lewis, and Randall Burkett. Thanks also to NPR's All Things Considered. Bill Buzenberg is the Executive Producer of American RadioWorks. I'm Michele Norris.

Host: Major funding for American RadioWorks is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Support for Say it Plain came from the National Endowment for the Humanities. To find out more about the companion book and CD set for Say it Plain, and to hear other great speeches by African Americans of the 20th Century, visit our web site,

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