POLITICS 88 : Jackson Speaks at Alma Mater : Advises Graduates to ‘Never Surrender’ Dreams

Times Staff Writer

The Rev. Jesse Jackson returned Sunday to the college where he got his initiation into the civil rights movement, and warned a graduating class that included two of his sons: “Never concede or surrender your dreams.”

Although the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University commencement address was not supposed to be a political event, Jackson lapsed into his standard stump speech, aiming particularly harsh barbs at Vice President George Bush.

Jackson described Bush as having “constipation of the brain, a deficit of ideas and diarrhea of the mouth.” The comment came in response to Bush’s characterization of Jackson on Friday as a “hustler from Chicago.”


Jackson told the cheering students that his experiences at A&T; had laid the foundation for his history-making quest for the presidency.

Bucking the System

It was at A&T--then;, as now, a black college--that Jackson got his first taste of politics and launched a career of bucking the system.

As student body president in 1963, Jackson was arrested for blocking traffic in front of City Hall as he led his classmates in a protest against segregation.

The police had charged him at the time with inciting a riot but Jackson described his actions as “simply standing up for dignity.”

“We were encouraged at A&T; to sit in, stand tall and fly high,” he said. “And so, when I’m running for the presidency, I’m just acting out my lessons.”

Wearing a graduation gown, Jackson described a new set of struggles for the class of 900 students to undertake a quarter-century later.

“You take this baton another lap,” he said, citing goals that varied from the peaceful development of outer space to curing cancer.

Two Sons Graduate

Among the graduates were two of Jackson’s five children--23-year-old Jesse Jr., who graduated in three years with high honors, and Jonathan, 22, who finished college with honors in 3 1/2 years.

Seated with the rest of Jackson’s family was another of its college students: Jackson’s mother-in-law, Gertrude D. Brown, who will receive her bachelor’s degree from Hampton University in Virginia next weekend at the age of 61.

“You are among the elite of the world,” Jackson told the graduates. But he warned: “You must fight the odds to win. . . . When I compete with (Massachusetts Gov. Michael S.) Dukakis and Bush, that’s Harvard and Yale.”

Jackson dismissed the media and political analysts who have written off his chances for winning the Democratic nomination. “With your help, I’m taking the lid off your dreams,” he said. “As I get closer to the White House, there’s no more impossible dream.”

Bringing In New Voters

“You should never concede or surrender your dreams,” he said. “Limited dreams are self-inflicted wounds.”

Jackson also took credit for bringing 2 million new voters to his party during his first race for the White House in 1984--broadening the party’s base of racial minorities, he said, and making it possible for the Democrats to pick up Senate seats in Southern states where they were unable to draw a majority of whites.

Now, he said, is the time for the party to repay him with its support.

“The New South politics were born of reciprocity, not of generosity,” he said. “We voted for them, and now we expect mutuality. . . . We will rise together.”