BALTIMORE (August 1, 2017) – At the 108th National Convention, Ben Jealous, former NAACP president and CEO, delivered remarks on the crucial role that the NAACP plays in fighting for everyone to have a role in our democracy. The full transcript of the speech is below.
Former NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous:
Good morning, NAACP. It is good to be home. Hey, I’m doing good, I’m doing good. Hey, you all are gonna make me cry.
Welcome. Welcome to the home of Thurgood Marshall. The home of Clarence Mitchell. The home of Juanita Jackson Mitchell. Our President Jackson, our President McMillan, and the home of Frederick Douglass. The city that he ran away from and then came back to work as a builder. And we in the Civil Rights Movement, we got our charge from Frederick Douglass a long time ago. See, after we passed the 13th Amendment, the 14thAmendment and the 15th Amendment, it was Frederick Douglass who stood up and in his speech on composite nationality, his tirade against the Chinese exclusion act, not dissimilar to these Latino exclusion acts that have been passed in Arizona and Alabama, the NAACP has been fighting against this for a long time now.
But in times like these, when the black vote was rising south of the Mason-Dixon and immigrants of color were increasing and the far right wing conservatives—Donald Trump—had lost their minds, Frederick Douglass stood up and he said, “You know we didn’t come through a great war and slavery in the Southeast, just to watch you all enslave somebody else in the Southwest.” And he said you know, if you believe majorities matter, and I believe they do, then it should matter that 4/5ths of the world is colored people, and only 1/5th is white.
Reverend, good to see you sir. Let’s hear it for our fearless reverend, Dr. Barber.
And then Frederick Douglass laid out his vision for our nation. It’s the vision that we have pursued as a civil rights movement ever since, especially in this organization which literally rose from the ashes of the old abolitionist movement. Frederick Douglass said every nation has a unique destiny, and that destiny is based on a nation’s character, and a nation’s character is defined by that nation at its best. Not its worst:Donald Trump.
And ultimately a nation’s character is rooted in its geography, and our geography is unique. We are bordered by friendly nations of different colors, north and south. And great oceans east and west that connect us to every people on the planet. And therefore our nation’s destiny, based on her character and defined by us at our best is shaped by our unique geography. This part’s an exact quote. He said, “It’s to be the most perfect example of the unity and dignity of the human family that the world has ever seen.” That the world has ever seen.
And my beloved NAACP, more than anyone in this nation, we are the ones who are called to ensure that no matter what happens in Washington, our country keeps moving toward its destiny. I want to congratulate Derrick Johnson on his ascension to be the acting president of the NAACP, and Leon Russell on becoming our new chairman. And it is appropriate that we are led in this moment by great leaders from the field, from the South, from the states, because it is in our states where we can do our best work right now. We can ensure that we have single-payer no matter what happens in Washington. We can ensure that we raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour no matter what happens in Washington.
Most of our inmates are in state jails—not federal. We can end mass-incarceration no matter what happens in Washington. But in order to do that, brothers and sisters, in these times when the President of the United States has convened a voter suppression commission, in this time where he literally has Kris Kobach and the all-stars of voter suppression meeting at the White House to suppress our vote, we must do what we do best and remind ourselves that the antidote, the antidote for voter suppression is massive voter registration.
Brothers and sisters, I want to be very clear: We can change this country right now, we have the numbers, we have the power right now. If you looked down the East Coast of our country, right now from here from where the Mason-Dixon is just above us, straight down to Florida, we can change the direction of our nation. We can get headed back towards our destiny, but it starts with massive voter registration.
In South Carolina – that state when I was a young organizer in Mississippi that we thought might actually be worse than Mississippi, tougher than Mississippi – far right-wing conservatives when they run statewide tend to win by 100,000 votes. Well, there’s 350,000 unregistered black votes in South Carolina right now.
In Georgia to its south, where far right-wing conservatives tend to win by 250,000 votes, as of a few years ago there were 830,000 unregistered blacks, Latinos and Asians. Eight hundred thirty thousand. The new Georgia project I’m proud to report, with help from Brother Francis Johnson and brothers and sisters in Florida have registered more than 250,000 of those 830,000. But we gotta go all the way.
And down in Florida, where because of President Adora Obi Nweze’s leadership, it’s always been the most cost-effective place to register folks to vote. Where Hillary Clinton lost by just 120,000 votes, they’re almost one million unregistered blacks and Puerto Ricans right now.
So brothers and sisters, I hope that if your unit has not made voter registration a year-round, every day, year-in, year-out activity, that you’re doing it right now. Because we can get America headed back towards her destiny, but it starts in our states, and it starts with massive voter-registration and it starts with the five most powerful letters in American democracy: the N-A-A-C-P. Thank you, and God bless.
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Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our six “Game Changer” issue areas here.