Sen. Ted Kennedy, Civil Rights Titan, Dead At 77 The political world is mourning the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. The eight-term Democratic senator from Massachusetts and brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, Jr., died Tuesday night after a year-long battle with brain cancer. During his time in Washington, Kennedy was a leader in the battle for civil rights, a cause he championed throughout his career.
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Sen. Ted Kennedy, Civil Rights Titan, Dead At 77

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Sen. Ted Kennedy, Civil Rights Titan, Dead At 77

Sen. Ted Kennedy, Civil Rights Titan, Dead At 77

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I'm Jennifer Ludden, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up as the recession pushes more men out of work, a growing number of women are becoming primary bread winners. More on the economic impact of that trend, later in the program. But first the political world is mourning the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. He died last night after a year long battle with brain cancer. Kennedy served in the Senate for 46 years. He became a powerful ally in the battle for civil rights, a cause he continued to champion throughout his career.

Joining us now to talk about that legacy is Reverend Jesse Jackson and also Rosa Rosales. She is the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the nation's oldest civil rights organizations. Welcome to you both.

Reverend JESSE JACKSON (Civil Rights Activist): Good morning.

Ms. ROSA ROSALES (President, United Latin American Citizens): Thanks for having me.

LUDDEN: Can I just quickly get, maybe each of you, your first thoughts when you heard the news this morning that the senator had died. Reverend Jackson.

Rev. JACKSON: Well, I'm very sad and I have known Senator Kennedy for more than 40 years. (Unintelligible) words to size him up: effectiveness, consistency, loved and hated. His struggle to be a legislative leader in public accommodations, right to vote, open housing, physical disability - effective legislation; consistent. (Unintelligible) Dr. King, (unintelligible), Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama - consistent. And for that (unintelligible), but also very despised and hated. He lived between the balance of fear and hope all of these years, and hope prevailed.

LUDDEN: Rosa Rosales, what were your first thoughts?

Ms. ROSALES: Oh, my first thought was the - a big sadness came, a great loss to our country, to out community. This man was a beacon of hope, always fighting for those that sometimes were voiceless. He was a strong leader for immigration reform, health reform, education and hate crime legislation. You name it, all things that affect all communities, the senator was there.

LUDDEN: And all things that were quite controversial, and at various times, Reverend Jackson, you mentioned he became something of a lightning rod. He took some early stance on the civil rights movement, that were difficult at time. What do you recall?

Rev. JACKSON: Leaders of substance mould opinion. They don't just follow opinion poll. He was a change agent. No one of his wealth ever reached through the back for the poor nor exalted them higher. I mean his stand with Chavez and the lettuce and grape growers; his stand with those who were picking cotton in the South; his stand for the right to vote. I mean, for these battles, his brothers were killed. Martin King was killed. Medgar Evers was killed. I mean, these were battles against a (unintelligible) at that time, they are issues now that we take for granted and this kind of (unintelligible) leadership.

LUDDEN: And as someone, who was in the civil rights movement early, as well, can you give me a sense of his relationship with you and other leaders at the time. How did he operate?

Rev. JACKSON: One of the things - I remember coming out of jail one time in Greensborough, North Carolina and heard him say something I never heard before by of a white leader at that time, that the struggle in the south is not just a legal struggle, it's a moral struggle. It's the right thing. That seems almost half the (unintelligible) today. The signs of the change that needed to make to create the new America now, was very tough language(ph). I suppose, in the South today, in some quarters, Dr. King remains very hated, but the Kennedys are hated even more. They're seen as betraying of the promise of the old Confederacy. And their legislative powers made the difference that we now realize in America today. We can go to public accommodation, any hotel, motel or library - Kennedy's fingerprint is on that. The right to vote, his fingerprint is on that. Eighteen year olds, the right to vote; (unintelligible) for women, the right to vote; (unintelligible) the right to vote; worker's rights. I mean he has 50 years of a (unintelligible) record that's really unmatched.

LUDDEN: So many issues. Rosa Rosales, can you tell us a bit about Senator Kennedy's involvement in immigration reform. I mean he was there from the beginning. The main sponsor of the 1965 Immigration Reform Act with - that really overturned decades of very racially based immigration laws and opened up immigration to Africa, Asia, different parts of the world. And he held that issue dear for the decades to come. What stands out for you?

Ms. ROSALES: What stands out for me that in reference to the immigration, he was there when there was a very controversial issue, you might say, even today. But he's a fighter. He didn't go on, on what the polls were saying, or he went what the people wanted. And as a human rights and civil rights person that he was, he was there for the struggle. He was there to the end. He wanted to ensure that everyone is treated equally and immigrants is an issue that was very dear to him.

LUDDEN: Why do you think that is, what made this issue dear to him?

Ms. ROSALES: The issue is, because he, as a human being that he was, he felt that this was an issue that affected human rights. He wanted them to get fair treatment. He wanted them to have that path to legalization to get them out of the shadows. And to me, he will always be remembered as a great hero of the Latino community.

LUDDEN: If you are just joining, I'm Jennifer Ludden and you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are talking about the life and legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy with Rosa Rosales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens; and with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow Push Coalition. Ms. Rosales there were you listed many other issues, education and hate crimes. Would you tell us about other aspects of his civil rights legacy that, maybe, you were involved with him as well.

Ms. ROSALES: Well, the organization of (unintelligible), you know, has always been there in reference to issues that affect the well being of all communities. And one of them that's very important to us, of course, was the hate crimes. And Senator Kennedy definitely was the leader in ensuring to come up with legislation that there would be no hate crimes just because of who you are, just because of your language or your race. And for that we will never forget him. And I would say, also, in education, he was the leader for us in ensuring that everybody receives quality education. And as far as health reform, you know, that is an issue that was very dear to him also.

Let us just say that the man was there to help everyone, to ensure a better quality of life for all of us, to ensure that our civil rights and our human rights were protected. He will forever be in our minds. He is the hero that will never be forgotten to our community.

LUDDEN: Reverend Jackson, when we look at today's political climate, you know, that so much is being said about Senator Kennedy's ability to reach across the aisle - and though he was, you know, the liberal lion of the Senate and quite to the left of the political spectrum in his own views - he - 2009, a poll by a Capitol Hill newspaper rated him - Republicans senators called him the easiest Democrat to work with and the most bipartisan. Do you see something - that kind of - do you think that relationship with civil rights organizations and Senate leaders, can there be that kind of cooperation that you had with Senator Kennedy again these days?

Rev. JACKSON: It remains a challenge. These progressives tend to be reconcilers. The idea of fighting to end Jim Crow laws was good for all of America though not good for those where there's a status quo. All Americans and Latino citizens and Native Americans had rights, and women had rights, not just privileges, and workers have rights. He toed that line and today there's a bigger (unintelligible) America.

We all feel much better about ourselves, but it took a legislative leadership that was a combination of street action and legislative action and was a kind of coalition, kind of outside-inside fighting but what is fighting for those basic rights we now take for granted. And the days he was leading those struggles - for that you could be jailed and killed and many people were. Somehow he chose hope over fear and never backed down.

I cannot help but think about his staying with Cesar Chavez in the field, Doctor King on the road, Mandela in South Africa, President Obama last year. That is a trail of consistence that's to be admired.

LUDDEN: Can you recall some story about how he worked so, you know, not on the Senate floor, not in front of the cameras, but behind the scenes with leaders like yourself. What was his style?

Rev. JACKSON: It's interesting that today you could not - had we not won those battles, you couldn't have had the Dallas Cowboys or the Atlanta Braves behind the cotton curtain, you couldn't have had the Olympics in Atlanta behind the cotton. This new America that we now celebrate was made possible by the success of those struggles.

LUDDEN: Rosa Rosales, what about you? Do you see anyone in the Senate these days who can pick up this kind of bipartisan approach and emulate it?

Ms. ROSALES: Well, let us just say it's going to be difficult to find a person with his compassion and love. There's a lot more, the representatives and senators that we all so love and admire for their leadership in making sure that our rights are protected.

But the leader, I think, is Senator Kennedy and it's just a day of sadness but a day of following his dream and ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and dignity and in a fair and just manner. So I think that that is one of the things that we will never forget.

LUDDEN: Just a - we have just a minute left. Reverend Jackson…

Rev. JACKSON: Let me say this, you know, it's tragedy that he is dying in the middle of his biggest battle but just as…

LUDDEN: Health care, health care reform.

Rev. JACKSON: (unintelligible) feel the impact (unintelligible) Housing Act of 1968 just maybe in his death to look at the (unintelligible) difference in getting a comprehensive health care bill passed because that's been the most, his last lifetime fight, the comprehensive health care bill for all Americans.

LUDDEN: Mm-hmm. Well, Reverend Jesse Jackson is a civil rights leader and activist and joined us on the phone from Chicago. Rosa Rosales is president of the League of United Latin American Citizens and one of the nation's oldest civil rights organizations. She joins us from her home in San Antonio. Thanks very much to both of you.

Ms. ROSALES: Thank you.

Rev. JACKSON: Thank you.

LUDDEN: Coming up, more on the life and legacy of Senator Edward Kennedy and a look at the fight over remaking the neighborhoods of New Orleans four years after Hurricane Katrina. Stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

I'm Jennifer Ludden.

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