America must not repeat mistakes of a half-century ago by continuing to send Haitians back to their oppressed homeland, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told a Towson audience last night.
Mr. Jackson compared the nation's policy of returning Haitian detainees with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the refusal to accept some German-Jewish immigrants in 1939.
"That was anti-Semitic and it was wrong," Mr. Jackson told an audience of more than 1,000 people at Towson State University.
"If we learned our lesson, then it's wrong to lock the Haitians out in 1993."
Earlier yesterday, Mr. Jackson led thousands on a march in Miami protesting the Clinton administration's Haitian policy and urging a return of democracy in Haiti.
He said he will go next week to the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Haitians have been detained. "We intend to keep the pressure on until Haiti is free."
Speaking without notes, Mr. Jackson hit upon several themes, including the country's mistreatment of native Americans, the small number of blacks in key positions in major league baseball, and a short appreciation of Japan's high-speed railroad lines.
Mr. Jackson began with a somber tribute to Arthur Ashe, the tennis star and civil rights advocate who died Saturday. "He was a man of so much dignity and character, whose efforts beyond the confines of the tennis court helped to make America better."
He also offered a long appreciation of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall who, Mr. Jackson said, was more successful at melding the law and morality than leaders from the days of slavery such as Jefferson and Madison. That merger, he said, became real in 1954, when Mr. Marshall won the landmark Supreme Court school desegregation case.
"The law and morality married," Mr. Jackson said, "and made possible our cultural diversity and that's why Thurgood Marshall stands as the tallest tree among the Democratic forest."
Mr. Jackson urged the audience to embrace the nation's cultural diversity, reminding them that "most people in the world tonight are yellow, black, brown, non-Christian, poor, female, young and don't speak English, so it's multiculturalism or perish."
Speaking to an audience that was mostly too young to remember the civil rights movement, Mr. Jackson recalled the Rev. Martin Luther King's famous Washington speech in 1963 and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery to support voting rights.
"People died for a right that many of you won't even use," he said, his voice booming through the rafters above the Towson Center. "Young America, you have the power . . . to transform the whole world."
In an emotional highpoint of the 45-minute speech, Mr. Jackson offered a litany of the nation's needs -- education for all, full employment, investment in prenatal care and day care. After each item, he reminded the audience: "It's time to march."
The audience gave Mr. Jackson polite standing ovations at the beginning and conclusion of the event.