October 8, 2021
Happy 80th Birthday to You,
Reverend Jesse Jackson!
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Reverend Jesse Jackson, c. 1960s; Reverend Jesse Jackson running for president, 1988; and Reverend Jesse Jackson speaking at a voting rights demonstration, Washington D.C., August 2, 2021
Today, October 8, 2021, we celebrate the birthday of one of the most iconic civil rights leaders of the twentieth century. Eighty years ago, HistoryMaker Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., was born in Greenville, South Carolina to Helen Jackson and Noah Robinson. In celebration of an amazing life and career, we turn to our archives for memories and stories of this great man. 
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Willie T. Barrow, c. 1970s
Right: Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Willie T. Barrow, 1986
Civil rights activist Reverend Willie T. Barrow (1924 - 2015), founding member of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, worked with Reverend Jackson for numerous decades. In her interview for The HistoryMakers, she recalled their start: “Now, when Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] came… to bring the movement North… he said, ‘I got to put a woman with Jesse Jackson [Sr.]…’ And Bill Berry and Bob Lucas… says, ‘we know the right woman you need. And that's [HistoryMaker] Addie Wyatt…’ they said… ‘No, we cannot lose Addie… on the Board of the AF of LCIO [AFL-CIO].’ And so Addie said, ‘I know a woman, Dr. King that you could, you can put with Jesse.’ He said… ‘any woman that can stop Jesse from cussing.’ (laughter). So, they said, ‘Oh, I know the right one… Reverend Willie Barrow.’ And, and sho nuf -- I had been working for him anyway… And now me and Jesse have been together for thirty-six years [in 1999].”[1]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson (right) and Thomas N. Todd (left) at an Operation PUSH meeting,
Chicago, Illinois, 1983
Right, left to right: Mel Farr, Alvin Boutte, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Cirillo McSween and Howard Brookins, Chicago, Illinois, c. 1983-1987
Reverend Jackson started Operation PUSH in Chicago in 1971. As explained by civil rights lawyer Thomas N. Todd, who later served as president of Operation PUSH, “The most important issue for the organization was economic development… because of the work of Reverend [Jesse] Jackson, and many of the black businesspeople, Chicago was considered a black Mecca. With black banks, and black businesspeople, and they were opening up opportunities.”[2] Entrepreneur and former NFL player Mel Farr, Sr. (1944 - 2015) remembered: “We were able to get it accomplished and was able to buy the Seven-Up Bottling Plant in Flint, Michigan… Reverend Jesse Jackson was very instrumental in getting that done because he had--just negotiated a deal with Seven-Up Bottling Company to improve its relationship with African Americans and so it became possible for us to buy that.”[3]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson speaking at the 2nd Annual PUSH National Convention, 1973
Right: Reverend Jesse Jackson speaking at the 13th Annual PUSH National Convention, 1984
Reverend Jackson’s son, U.S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. from Illinois, spoke on his father’s impact with Operation PUSH: “It allowed a generation of young African Americans and young people in Chicago [Illinois] to grow, to mature to be able to tackle and wrestle some of these fundamental issues… to have this figure, [Rev.] Jesse Jackson, wedged between the church and between political activism and still a minister, not competing with churches on Sunday, but doing direct action on Saturday has freed a whole generation of people like me.”[4]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson speaking at the Black Expo, Chicago, Illinois, 1971
Right: Reverend Jesse Jackson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley before the opening of the Black Expo, 1971
Reverend Jackson organized the first Black Expo, a business fair in Chicago held in 1971, which was a success. Hermene Hartman, founder of N'DIGO, recalled working on the inaugural event: “[Rev.] Jesse Jackson [Sr.]… said, ‘We need to put some kind of fair together where we can showcase our business people--where we can actually see their goods and their services and their wares… we need to show it to ourselves, but we also need to show it to a larger audience...’ the very first [Black] Expo was put together in six weeks. We had a business component, we had a cultural component, and we had an entertainment component… when we opened up, I think we had about 50,000 people on our first day… That was most wonderful sight… And the Expo grew.”[5]
Save the Children movie poster, 1973
Crew on the set of Save the Children, Chicago, Illinois, 1972 
In 1972, the “Godfather of Black Music” Clarence Avant helped raise funding from the Ford Foundation for Reverend Jackson’s Expo, which featured a massive live music lineup featuring names like Cannonball Adderley, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, and Sammy Davis, Jr., later featured in 1973’s documentary Save the Children. Television producer Stan Lathan further explained: “We talked about this project that Clarence and Jesse wanted to do of shooting the PUSH [People United to Save Humanity/Black] Expo, which was coming up… It was already a big deal. They had a lot of people committed to coming in… I remember this world wind of activity trying to put together a crew… a black crew. So out of the eleven cameramen, nine of them were African Americans… The money was… a grant from Ford Foundation… there was a African American Executive at the Ford Foundation… And we came up with an extraordinary film, it was just, Paramount [Pictures]--didn't know what to do with it, and it just kind of died in the way it was marketed and distributed.”[6]
Reverend Jesse Jackson on Sesame Street, 1971 (left) and Revered Al Sharpton sporting a similar medallion, undated (right)
Reverend Al Sharpton spoke of Reverend Jackson as his mentor: “I had joined Operation Breadbasket… in New York… And they made me the youth director… I met this young minister who was the national head of Breadbasket. Didn't wear a suit and tie. Had a big afro and thick sideburns, wore a medallion and a vest. And they said, ‘This is the national director named Reverend Jesse Jackson.' And they said, ‘This is Al Sharpton. He's our youth director and he wants to have your advice...’ And Jesse… said, ‘Well, do your research, choose your targets carefully and kick ass…’ And I became mesmerized by Jesse Jackson and became a protégé of his… I started wearing a medallion and grew a big afro. I used to wear a vest.”[7]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson (left) and Andrew Young (right), c. late 1960s
Right: Tyrone Brooks (left) and Reverend Jesse Jackson (right), Antioch Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, c. 2000
State Representative from Georgia Tyrone Brooks also spoke on Reverend Jackson’s influence, telling of an incident in 1979, “When he [President Jimmy Carter] came to Ebenezer Baptist Church [Atlanta, Georgia] as President, Hosea Williams recommended that we march on him because as he was balancing his budget… on the backs of the poor. And Hosea Williams, Dr. Joseph Lowery and many others… Jesse Jackson, all of us, we marched on Ebenezer… also to protest the firing of [HistoryMaker] Andrew Young as Ambassador to United Nations… because of one meeting with the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] representative, all of a sudden, he's in this firestorm… And I'll never forget Jesse Jackson taking the lead to protest the way Andrew Young was treated. Jesse Jackson was out there more than anybody.”[8]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson campaigning for the presidency, Texas, 1984
Right: Women holding photos of Reverend Jesse Jackson while awaiting his arrival at a campaign rally, Huntington, West Virginia, 1988
Lawyer and tech entrepreneur Will Griffin recalled Reverend Jackson and his prominence while running for president in 1984 and 1988: “He would come down here [Austin, Texas], and he'd… come to the churches in '84 [1984] and '88 [1988]. The energy was electric. And my mom [Patricia Seaton Griffin] had bought me the record… 'Our Time Has Come,' his [1984] DNC [Democratic National Convention] speech. In fact, I might have plagiarized part of that speech… when I was running for student body president… he was the Michael Jackson of that era for debate. So if he did it, I did it… Jesse Jackson got big like stars get big, like they blow up and everybody wants to imitate 'em.”[9]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson giving Willie Brown a low five during a get-out-the-vote rally,
San Francisco, California, 1988
Right: Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Reverend Jesse Jackson, 1992
One of the most important voices in Congress today, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, spoke of working on these presidential campaigns while serving in the California State Assembly: “1984 and 1988 were the most exciting campaigns. It was very powerful. Black people were very excited about Jesse Jackson. It was rough going in the beginning trying to get all of the black leadership in line. It was new… It gave us an opportunity to exercise power and to make decisions… Jesse is a kind of person where he knows very well how to take talent and use it, and so you get a chance to do a lot… If you can do it, he'll not only let you do it, he'll give you more to do… or expect more from you. So I got to do a lot… I was chairing the campaigns. I was in the back room with the guys… making decisions... It was good.”[10]
Left: Reverend Jesse Jackson campaigning for president, 1988
Right: Then-Senator Barack Obama (left) and Reverend Jesse Jackson (right), 2007
African American studies professor Manning Marable (1950 - 2011) emphasized the impact of these two presidential campaigns: “You have a strong black united front. Everybody from the communist to Louis Farrakhan [HistoryMaker Minister Louis Farrakhan] uniting behind Jesse Jackson. It was an extraordinary event in '84 [1984] and in '88 [1988]. Jesse carried states either caucuses or primaries like Vermont and Alaska where there are virtually no African Americans. So, if you look at say the '88 [1988] campaign, Jesse won 7 million votes. Half of those were from African Americans, but the other half were from whites and Latinos and Asians… by the late '80s [1980s] and throughout the '90s [1990s] and then into the 21st century, that became the core new generation of black elected official leadership, and Barack Obama [HistoryMaker President Barack Obama] was a part of that generation, and you see literally thousands of people whose first engagement with politics was the Jackson campaign and that is why we embraced it.”[11]
Reverend Jesse Jackson, 1988 (left) and Reverend Jesse Jackson, 2017 (right)
Former Chicago Tribune journalist, N. Don Wycliff, reflected: “He's an incredibly smart guy… he's broad in his thinking… he sees connections among things that go right by most people… but if I had to take the U.S. with Jesse as opposed to the U.S. without him, I'd have no question… I'd have to have him. I think he's done a world of good.”[12]
Rev. Jesse Jackson participating in a rally on January 15, 1975
Jesse and Jacqueline Jackson (center) with their five kids, undated
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking with residents of the Bronx, New York, undated
Rev. Jesse Jackson, 2016
Oprah Winfrey interviewing Rev. Jesse Jackson, 1975
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking to the press, undated
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking with the Los Angeles Sentinel Editorial Board, 2017
Interviews Added to
The HistoryMakers Digital Archive
The HistoryMakers is pleased to announce the complete interviews of magazine publisher Rodney J. Reynolds and publishing executive Bennett J. Johnson are now available for viewing on The HistoryMakers Digital Archive!
Rodney J. Reynolds
Interviewed on July 13, 2013

In 1992, Reynolds and Corporate Cleveland Magazine developed Minority Business, a quarterly publication where he served as publisher and editor. He went on to publish New Visions and Renaissance Magazine. He also developed Today, a magazine that focused on African American families. Reynolds founded RJR Communications, Inc. in 1992. In 1995, Reynolds, along with Forbes, Inc., began publishing American Legacy Magazine, which centered on African American history and culture. In February of 2001, RJR Communications and New Millennium Studios, founded by entertainer Timothy Reid, launched American Legacy Television, a nationally syndicated television program.

To view Rodney J. Reynolds' interview, click HERE.
Bennett J. Johnson
Interviewed on August 22 & 24, 2013

In 1969, Bennett J. Johnson co-founded Path Press Inc., one of the first black owned publishing companies in the United States. Path Press has played a major role in the early history of black publishing and continues to give black authors and historians an outlet for their written work. After receiving his M.A. in English from the University of California at Los Angeles, he began working alongside such Chicago greats as Harold Washington, Frank Brown, Gus Savage, Richard Durham, Herman C. Gilbert and Dempsey Travis on crucial issues such as political action, social equality, and economic justice. In 1966, Johnson acted as the primary liaison for the historic meeting between Elijah Muhammad and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To view Bennett J. Johnson's interview, click HERE.
[1] Reverend Willie T. Barrow (The HistoryMakers A1999.001), interviewed by Adele Hodge, August 19, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 13, Willie Barrow details her working relationship with Jesse Jackson.
[2] Thomas N. Todd (The HistoryMakers A2002.094), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 6, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 2, Thomas Todd expounds on the importance of education to the black community.
[3] Mel Farr, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2002.151), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 21, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 2, Mel Farr identifies his additional business endeavors.
[4] The Honorable Jesse Jackson, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2000.029), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, May 12, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Jesse Jackson, Jr. considers the legacy of Operation PUSH.
[5] Hermene Hartman (The HistoryMakers A2001.035), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, April 4, 2001, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 1, Hermene Hartman recalls her participation in the first Black Expo.
[6] Stan Lathan (The HistoryMakers A2003.139), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, June 25, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 4, Stan Lathan recalls his involvement in Save the Children.
[7] Reverend Al Sharpton (The HistoryMakers A2002.002), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, March 4, 2002, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Al Sharpton discusses his mentor, Reverend Jesse Jackson.
[8] The Honorable Tyrone Brooks (The HistoryMakers A2003.099), interviewed by Larry Crowe, May 6, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 5, Tyrone Brooks describes Jimmy Carter and his works.
[9] Will Griffin (The HistoryMakers A2014.127), interviewed by Larry Crowe, May 9, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 3, Will Griffin talks about HistoryMaker Jesse Jackson.
[10] The Honorable Maxine Waters (The HistoryMakers A2001.076), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, July 29, 2001, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 2, Maxine Waters recalls her involvement in Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign.
[11] Manning Marable (The HistoryMakers A2005.228), interviewed by Shawn Wilson, October 5, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 6, story 1, Manning Marable describes the impact of Reverend Jesse L. Jackson's presidential bid, pt. 1.
[12] N. Don Wycliff (The HistoryMakers A2003.050), interviewed by Larry Crowe, July 2, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 5, story 8, Don Wycliff discusses Jesse Jackson Sr's impact on American politics.