Jackson’s speech highlights American race struggle, progress

“In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

With those words, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson acknowledged both the struggle and progress of black Americans during his lifetime.

His words, delivered from the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, a day after his historic Senate confirmation, were a tribute to generations of black Americans who he said paved the way for his rise to the nation’s highest court.

“I’ve achieved nothing now that my grandparents never imagined,” Jackson said, adding that only before starting his own family and later sending his children to racially segregated schools. Received grade-school education.

“The way was cleared for me, so that I could rise to the occasion,” she said. “And in the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, I do so now.”

Jackson quoted Angelou’s famous poem, “And Still I Rise”, as saying: “I am the slave’s dream and hope.”

Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, who was a key surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, said Jackson’s speech was an awe-inspiring reminder of how far black Americans have come amid their ongoing struggle.

Turner said, “To express that feeling out loud for the whole world to hear as she was the first black woman to take her place as a Supreme Court justice, was simply fantastic.”

“It is extremely important that we, as black people, continue to remind this country of where we came from,” she said. “The pain it took to get ‘Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’ cannot be overstated.”

Jackson, a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said she had been lucky on her way to the High Court. Although his arrival breaks down one of the remaining racial barriers in American democracy, many black Americans still struggle to overcome systemic barriers.

He thanked civil rights icon Rev Martin Luther King Jr., as well as black federal judicial trailblazers such as Justice Thurgood Marshall and Judge Constance Baker Motley, for their leadership and role modeling.

“For all that this historic nomination and now confirmed, I think of him as a true pioneer,” Jackson said. “I am the first lucky heir to the dream of liberty and justice for all.”

Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and coordinator of the Black Women’s Roundtable, watched Jackson’s speech from the lawn of the White House as invited guests Friday. He said the sun was shining through the clouds in Washington, a delight in the crowd at what Jackson symbolizes for the country.

“It felt like the ancestors were dancing.”

“I can see myself in Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson now,” Campbell said. “(Jackson) understands the importance of this moment for black women, for women, for the nation. And it’s a game changer.”

Others watching the speech also noted the diversity at the event and the image at the center — with President Joe Biden the first black female Supreme Court justice and the first black and Asian American vice president.

Just before Vice President Kamala Harris introduced her to the president, she emphasized what Jackson’s confirmation would mean to her young, black granddaughter one day.

“When I presided over the Senate confirmation vote yesterday, while I was sitting there, I drafted a note to my granddaughter,” Harris said. “I told her that I felt such a deep sense of pride and joy about what this moment meant for our country and its future.”

Speaking directly to Jackson, Harris said: “And I’ll tell you, his ponytail is only slightly longer than yours.”

Although the occasion would be noted in the history books as a symbol of racial progress, Turner maintained that Jackson’s elevation to the Supreme Court should be celebrated by Americans of all races and creeds.

“Not only should the entire black community be proud, the whole country should be proud because it’s definitely a long time,” she said. “And with this win, we definitely have the opportunity to try and make more wins. We are not done yet.”

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Aaron Morrison writes about race and justice for AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter:

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