Thousands of demonstrators chanting "Shame on Bush" jammed the Florida state Capitol grounds Tuesday, demanding that Gov. Jeb Bush back off his plan to ban racial and gender preferences in university admissions and state contracting.
"We are not fighting for privileges," declared the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "We are fighting for access to America's tree of life. Leave nobody behind, black or white."
Pouring into Tallahassee from around the country, the demonstrators said they feared Bush's plan to end affirmative action would erase the gains blacks and other minorities have made since the civil rights movement. Bush has put portions of the plan into effect through executive order, but other segments still need legislative approval.
Backed by a Republican led legislature, few believe Bush will be swayed by the protest and passions of people who didn't put him in office in the first place, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.
"This is the first step towards re-segregation," said the Rev. Timothy McDonald, who came from Atlanta.
The rally was timed to coincide with governor's State of the State address and the opening of the legislative session.
Police estimated the crowd at 9,000 to 11,000 people. Participants included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the Rev. Martin Luther King III, members of Congress and state legislators.
Protesters sang "Amazing Grace" and "We Shall Overcome," and waved signs reading "Jeb is Bush League," "Jeb Crow," and "Bush Whack."
Inside the Capitol, Bush defended the plan during his address.
"The vast majority of Floridians favor the elimination of affirmative action programs," he said.
The Republican governor's One Florida plan bans consideration of race and gender in admissions to the state's 10 public universities and in the awarding of state contracts. It guarantees college admission to the top 20 percent of each high school graduating class, provided the students have taken college preparatory classes.
Texas, Washington state and California have also ended affirmative action in university admissions.
Supporters of Florida's plan say the state will boost minority enrollment in college and participation in contracting by reaching out to blacks and others.
"There is a new energy for minority outreach that is unprecedented in state government," the governor said. "Our plan is working."
"This year more minority students will be admitted to our university system than last year. This year the agencies that report to me will do more business with minority businesses than the previous year," he said.
But Jackson said Bush doesn't understand the importance of affirmative action.
"When you inherit the name, when you inherit legal protection, when you inherit the wealth, when you inherit skin color, when you inherit your parents' friends or advantage, you just don't understand," Jackson said.
In Miami, nearly 600 school bus drivers took the day off to attend the rally, briefly stranding thousands of students.
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