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Jesse Jackson’s Thurman Day Speech Urges African Americans ‘To Be Somebody’


(Nov. 11, 2010) – Days after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was asked to ease the tensions among black people.

Jackson immediately thought about what he once read in a book by 1923 Morehouse graduate, Howard Thurman. He then said to the group, “I am somebody.”

“I’ve used that expression, ‘I am somebody,’ for 40 years now,” Jackson, founder and president of Rainbow/PUSH, recalled during the Howard Thurman Crown Forum in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. “The book, ‘Jesus and the Disinherited,’ said simply that we’ve lost it all and all is taken away from us…reduced to our irreducible essence, we are still somebody.”

The phrase was the core of his message to the audience of students, faculty and staff in the Chapel – that African Americans needed to focus on bettering their lot in life and truly becoming somebody.

“We are at war with drugs and credit overdose,” Jackson said. “We are feeding the enemy, feeding the supply line. There’s not a single black gun store in America, yet we are supplying the enemy. We are gluttons for credit cards. We pay excessive fees for our excessive habits.

“Voluntary slavery is legal, but absurd,” he said. “Today we are free, but not equal. We stopped fighting, but the game is not over.”

The Howard Thurman Day Crown Forum honors Thurman, who was also a noted author, speaker, educator and advocate for human rights. Thurman was the first African American to meet with Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi to talk about human and civil rights. Two people who were influenced by Thurman’s legacy have been King and President Barack Obama.

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