B O S T O N, July 28, 2004 -- The Rev. Al Sharpton ignited the Democratic National Convention tonight, deviating from his prepared remarks to issue a sharp rebuke to President Bush, saying the black vote "is not for sale."
Sharpton told ABC News Now, ABC News' digital cable and Internet service, he wanted Bush to know the Democratic Party "has actually earned" African-American votes.
In remarks last week to the Urban League, Bush questioned whether Democrats take African-Americans' votes for granted. "I know plenty of politicians assume they have your vote," the president said on July 23. "But do they earn it and do they deserve it?"
Sharpton, a civil rights activist who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, responded to the president from the convention podium.
"Mr. President, I heard you say you had questions for voters, particularly African-American voters. And you said the Democratic Party takes us for granted. You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass," he said.
"It is true that Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We were promised 40 acres and a mule. We never got the 40 acres. … We didn't get the mule. So we decided we would ride this donkey as far as it would take us."
The delegates were wild with sustained applause during Sharpton's speech, which was supposed to last six minutes but ran to 23. He was the first speaker to divert significantly from a carefully vetted prepared text.
Answering a ‘Challenge’
Sharpton told ABC News Now his original address was submitted to the Democratic National Committee a week ago, "before Bush made his challenge" to the African-American community.
"I assumed he wanted an answer," Sharpton said. "I think he made a tough speech Friday, suggesting that we were some how politically unwise voting Democratic. I wanted him to know this party has actually earned our vote."
Sharpton said he had asked convention officials if he could amend his speech in order to respond to Bush, and that they gave him the go-ahead.
In his speech, Sharpton also addressed the contentiousness of the 2000 presidential election outcome and blacks' struggle for the right to vote, particularly during the conflicts of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
"Mr. President, the reason why we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age," he said. "Our vote was soaked in the blood of violence … soaked in the blood of Birmingham. This vote can't be taken away. This vote can't be given away.
"Mr. President — in all due respect, Mr. President — read my lips: our vote is not for sale."