Today we honor the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. “The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures. Over the past forty years, he has played a pivotal role in virtually every movement for empowerment, peace, civil rights, gender equality, and economic and social justice.” The Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr.; was a major-party presidential candidate twice; and, still advocates for many of the original causes on which he campaigned.
“Jesse Louis Jackson was born on October , 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina. He was the son of Helen Burns and her married next-door neighbor, Noah Robinson. Jackson was teased by his neighbors and classmates for being ‘a nobody who had no daddy.’ Jackson developed a strong desire to succeed and an understanding of the oppressed (those who are treated unjustly).” “A year after Jesse's birth, his mother married Charles Henry Jackson, a post office maintenance worker, who later adopted Jesse. In the small, black-and-white divided town of Greenville, a young Jackson learned early what segregation looked like. He and his mother had to sit in the back of the bus, while his black elementary school lacked the amenities the town's white elementary school had.
‘There was no grass in the yard,’ Jackson later recalled. ‘I couldn't play, couldn't roll over because our school yard was full of sand. And if it rained, it turned into red dirt.’”
“With advice from his grandmother, Jackson overcame his childhood problems, finishing tenth in his high-school class. He earned a football scholarship to attend the University of Illinois in Chicago. Jackson, eager to get away from the prejudice (dislike of people based on their race) and segregation (separation based on race) of the South, traveled north only to find both open and hidden discrimination (unequal treatment) at the university and in other parts of the city. After several semesters Jackson decided to leave the University of Illinois. He returned to the South and enrolled at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (A&T) in Greensboro, North Carolina, an institution for African American students, where he was elected student body president. As a college senior he became a leader in the civil rights movement. Jackson actively encouraged his fellow students to protest against racial injustice by staging repeated demonstrations and boycotts (protests in which, for example, organizers refuse to shop at a certain store in an attempt to get the store to change an unjust policy or position). Jackson graduated in 1964 with a degree in sociology and economics. After graduation Jackson decided to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary. After two and a half years at the school, Jackson left the seminary (a place for religious education) in 1966 before completing his divinity degree (a degree in the study of religion).”
Jesse Jackson's Early Work in the Civil Rights Movement
“While in Greensboro Jackson had joined the Congress of Racial Equality and participated in marches and sit-ins. After graduation, he began divinity studies at the Chicago Theological Seminary and worked to organize student support for Martin Luther King Jr.“ “Jackson joined Martin Luther King, Jr., and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1965 during demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, pushing for expanded voting rights for blacks.”
“[Jackson] organized local ministers to support the movement, marched through all-white neighborhoods to push for open housing, and began work on SCLC’s economic program, Operation Breadbasket. Drawing from successful campaigns in other cities, Operation Breadbasket organized the black community to use selective buying and boycotts to support black manufacturers and retailers and to pressure white-owned businesses to stock more of their products and hire more black workers. Jackson served as Operation Breadbasket’s Chicago coordinator for one year and was then named its national director. Under Jackson’s leadership the Chicago group won concessions from local dairies and supermarkets to hire more blacks and stock more products from black businesses. It encouraged deposits from businesses and the government for black-owned banks and organized a Black Christmas and a Black Expo to promote black-owned manufacturers.”
"In April 1968 many of SCLC's officers—including Jackson—were drawn away from other civil rights protests by a garbage collectors' strike in Memphis, Tennessee." While in Memphis, Tennessee during this strike , Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel. Jesse Jackson said that he was there with King, holding him, when he was shot. Jackson also said that he heard King's last words and had his shirt stained with King's blood.
Other leaders within the SCLC who had also been in the area where King was shot said that Jackson's claims weren't true and that Jackson has been in the parking lot when it happened. Jackson then appeared on national television telling his side of the story again, wearing a blood-stained shirt that "brought the horror of the assassination into American homes". Because of this publicity, many garnered Jackson as the new leader of the civil rights movement; however, "Ralph Abernathy was chosen to succeed King as the SCLC’s leader", which caused friction between Jackson and Abernathy. The other leaders of the SCLC also thought Jackson was using the SCLC for his own personal gain.
“In 1971 Jackson resigned from the SCLC to found his own organization, People United to Save Humanity (PUSH)… “Through PUSH Jackson continued to pursue the economic objectives of Operation Breadbasket and expand into areas of social and political development for blacks in Chicago and across the nation. The 1970s saw direct action campaigns, weekly radio broadcasts, and awards through which Jackson protected black homeowners, workers, and businesses, and honored prominent blacks in the U.S. and abroad. He also promoted education through PUSH-Excel, a spin-off program that focused on keeping inner-city youths in school and providing them with job placement.”
Jesse Jackson's International Exploits
“Since 1979 Jackson has repeatedly asserted himself as a prominent figure in national and international politics. In that year he traveled to South Africa to speak out against apartheid and to the Middle East to try to establish relations between Israel and the Palestinians [campaigning ‘to give Palestinians their own state’]. In January of 1984 he returned to the Middle East to negotiate the release of Lieutenant Robert Goodman, a black Navy pilot who had been shot down and taken hostage in the region. Later that year he traveled to Cuba to negotiate the release of several political prisoners held there and to Central America, where he spoke out for regional peace.” “While some observers and government officials frowned on his diplomatic missions as meddlesome and self-aggrandizing, Jackson nonetheless won praise for negotiating the release of U.S. soldiers and civilians around the world, including in Syria (1984), Iraq (1990), and Yugoslavia (1999).”
Jesse Jackson's Role in Electing Chicago's First African American Mayor
“In the 1980s Jackson became a leading national spokesman and advocate for African Americans. His voter-registration drive was a key factor in the election of Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, in April 1983.” “Jackson's ability to convince over one hundred thousand African Americans, many of them youths, to register to vote played a large part in Washington's victory.”
Paving the way: Jesse Jackson's Presidential Bids
“Nineteen eighty-four was also the year of Jackson’s first campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. His appeals for social programs, voting rights, and affirmative action for those neglected by Reaganomics earned him strong showings in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New York, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. He received 3.5 million votes, enough to secure a measure of power and respect at the Democratic convention.” “His campaign focused on social programs for the poor and disabled, reduced taxes for the poor, increased voting rights, effective programs to improve the job opportunities of women and minorities, and improved civil rights. He called for increased aid to African nations and more consideration of the rights of Arabs. Many senior African American politicians refused to support Jackson, believing that his candidacy would disrupt the Democratic Party and benefit the Republicans. However, many poor African Americans supported him.” “During the  campaign he drew criticism for his relationship with Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and for making a disparaging remark about New York’s Jewish community; Jackson later apologized for his comments and distanced himself from Farrakhan. In what was then the strongest showing ever by an African American candidate, Jackson placed third in the primary voting.”
“In 1988 he staged another bid for the Democratic nomination”. “Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the Democratic nomination was characterized by more organization and funding than his previous attempt. With the experience he gained from 1984 and new resources, Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition surprised the media and the political pundits. Initially written off as unelectable, Jackson emerged in the primary/caucus season as a serious contender for the nomination. After early respectable losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, he won five southern states on Super Tuesday, March 8, 1988. On March 12 he won the caucus in his birth state of South Carolina and three days later finished second in his home state of Illinois. On March 26 Jackson stunned Dukakis and the rest of the nation in the Michigan caucus: Having won that northern industrial state with 55 percent of the vote, Jackson became the Democratic front-runner.” “Jackson usually refused to attack his opponents [during his 1988 campaign], preferring instead to debate the issues. Many whites attracted to the campaign saw it as a way to focus attention on issue such as peace, the family farm, and gay rights. Jackson spoke forcefully on these issues. He stayed overnight with a farm family in the Midwest and a Latino family in the West. He participated in labor strikes and gay rights demonstrations.”
“Jackson’s 1988 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination attracted over 6.9 million votes—from urban blacks and Hispanics, poor rural whites, farmers and factory workers, feminists and homosexuals, and from white progressives wanting to be part of a historic change. He finished behind Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in the primaries, but exercised the power of his second-place finish to force his consideration as a vice-presidential running mate and to influence the nature of the Democratic Convention and the issues included on its platform. He called for homes for the homeless, comparable worth and day care for working women, a higher minimum wage, a commitment to the family farm, and an all-out war on drugs.” “Jackson’s increasing influence within the Democratic Party ensured that African American issues were an important part of the party’s platform. Jackson, a dynamic orator, made memorable speeches at later Democratic conventions but declined to run again for the presidency.”
Jesse Jackson's Post-1988 through 1999 Activism
"After the 1988 elections Jackson moved his home from Chicago to Washington, D.C. There he has campaigned against homelessness in the nation’s capital. He was considered one of the top contenders to take over as the capital’s mayor after Marion Barry was forced out of office by a drug scandal, but Jackson refused to run. Instead, he announced in July of 1990 that he would seek election as the District of Columbia’s ‘statehood senator,’ a position recently established by the city government to push Congress to grant statehood to the district. He was elected in November and sworn into office in January of 1991.” This was Jackson’s first elective office.
“In November 1999 Jackson came to the defense of six high-school students expelled for fighting in Decatur, Illinois. The Decatur school board expelled the students for two years for their involvement in a brawl during a football game in September 1999. Jackson met with the board to try to reach a compromise that would allow the students to return to regular classes, but the board would only agree to reduce the punishment to one year and to allow the students to attend a different school. As a result, Jackson led a protest march at the school, where he was arrested for criminal trespassing.
Jackson received his master of divinity degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary on June 3, 2000. He had been only three courses short of earning his degree when he left the school more than three decades earlier.”
“In 1997 President Bill Clinton named him a special envoy to Africa, where he traveled to promote human rights and democracy. That year Jackson also founded the Wall Street Project, which sought to increase minority opportunities in corporate America. During the impeachment hearings against Clinton in 1998, Jackson counseled the president, and in 2000 Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That year Jackson also received a Master of Divinity degree from the Chicago Theological Seminary.”