Special Report

Greatest Speeches of the Civil Rights Movement

Source: Mark Wilson / Newsmakers / Getty Images

Jesse Jackson: ‘Keep hope alive’
> Occupation: Civil rights activist
> Place: Atlanta, Georgia
> Date: Jul. 19, 1988

Jesse Jackson, who sought the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1988, gave a key address on July 19, 1988, that became known as the “Keep Hope Alive” speech, which helped define his career.

“I was born in the slum, but the slum was not born in me. And it wasn’t born in you, and you can make it.

Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don’t you surrender!

Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint.

You must not surrender! You may or may not get there but just know that you’re qualified! And you hold on, and hold out! We must never surrender!! America will get better and better.

Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive!”

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Barack Obama: Speech at Democratic National Convention
> Occupation: Senator
> Place: Boston, Massachusetts
> Date: July 27, 2004

Just three months after being elected senator from Illinois, Barack Obama became a household name with his stirring keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He introduced himself to the country, sharing his unique story. The speech embraced the ideals that all Americans, no matter their race, background, or heritage, should be equal.

“My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.

They are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with great pride.

They stand here, and I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

Source: Eric Thayer / Getty Images

Barack Obama: ‘A more perfect union’
> Occupation: Senator
> Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
> Date: March 18, 2008

During the early stages of the Democratic primary of the 2008 presidential election, Obama cemented his status as a world-class orator, delivering a powerful speech on how much progress America had made — and how much further it still has to go.

“[The constitution] they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.”

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Barack Obama: Inaugural address
> Occupation: President
> Place: Washington, D.C.
> Date: January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama became the first person of color to hold the highest office in the land. His election marked a momentous occasion, one many had hoped for but few believed they would live to see. In his first address as commander in chief, Obama struck an optimistic tone for the future of America and race relations therein.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

Source: Handout / Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey: Golden Globes speech
> Occupation: Entertainer/businesswoman/activist
> Place: Beverly Hills, California
> Date: Jan. 7, 2018

Upon receiving the Cecil B. DeMIlle Award for lifetime achievement in entertainment at the 2018 Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey gave an impassioned speech highlighting the #MeToo movement and its importance to underprivileged women.

“In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave: to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. And I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning — even during our darkest nights.”

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