Jackson says `struggle continues' 40 years after Civil Rights Act

At UM conference, leader urges blacks to vote

April 29, 2004|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson called on African-Americans to use their right to vote this year in a speech at the University of Maryland, College Park yesterday marking the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Jackson, who registered more than 3 million new voters in his presidential campaigns in the 1980s, said the Bush administration was a "huge threat to the civil rights and social justice of all Americans" for not meeting with civil rights and labor organizations and appointing "confederate" judges.

Listing state by state the number of unregistered black voters, the civil rights leader told a crowd of more than 100 students, faculty and others that conservative politicians have been elected to office by small and defeatable margins.

"We literally have the power to change the makeup of Congress, the House and the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court," he said. "We did not always have that freedom. That's about 40 years old."

Jackson's speech kicked off a daylong conference on the Civil Rights Act, which ended Jim Crow-era racial discrimination in public accommodations, outlawed gender-based job discrimination and became the bedrock for efforts to promote diversity in education.

Since the act was signed into law, African-Americans have raised their "mental ceilings" to achieve more, Jackson said, noting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others. However, Jackson said society is still deeply rooted in "white male supremacy."

"Our basic profile is that [African-Americans] work harder for less, pay more for less, live under stress and debt, and don't live as long," he said. "Therefore, it is sinful to suggest that the struggle is over. The struggle continues."

Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH, which was formed 20 years ago during his first presidential campaign, is on a mission to defend, protest and gain civil rights and justice, and to even the playing field in all aspects of American leadership, he said.

Though he criticized President Bush, Jackson referred to Democratic front-runner John Kerry only as a "live alternative."

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