Jesse Jackson was a Baptist minister who is known today for his fight against inequality against the blacks and whites. He was an American civil rights activist and was also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. We know and recognize his son Jesse Jackson Jr. as his representative today. Let’s take a closer look at his life.
Birth and Life of Jesse Jackson
• Jackson was born in Greenville South Caroline to Helen Burns.
• His mother was a 16 year old single mother
• His biological father, Louis Robinson was a professional boxer and a prominent figure in the black community. He was also married to another woman when Jesse was born.
• His mother married Charles Henry Jackson when Jesse was two and would later adopt him at the age of 16. Jesse took on the surname of his stepfather.
• Jesse attended Sterling High School which at the time was a segregated high school in Greenville.
• Jackson was an outstanding student and athlete during his high school years and was offered a professional contract with a baseball team which he turned down.
• He was also offered a football scholarship to the University of Illinois where he attended his first racially integrated school.
• On year after attending the University of Illinois he transferred to North Carolina A&T which was located in Greensboro, North Carolina. There are different stories as to why he transferred schools some of which may have had to do with racial discrimination.
• Jackson graduated from A&T and then attended the Chicago Theological Seminary with high hopes of becoming a minister.
• In 1966 when he realized his true focus was on the civil rights movement, he dropped out. He was however ordained in 1968 and received an honorary theological doctorate from Chicago in 1990.
Civil Rights Leader
• In 1965 Jackson participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches which were organized by Martin Luther King Jr. along with some other prominent civil rights leaders. After returning from Selma, Jesse Jackson became fully devoted to Martin Luther King’s efforts.
• Jesse Jackson became a part in establishing the beachhead of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Chicago.
• In 1966 Martin Luther King chose Jackson to be the head of the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket and promoted him to be the national director in 1967.
• Jackson was also a part of the successfully organized boycott, “selective buying” in which service stations were refusing to provide restroom services for blacks.
• Reverend Jesse Jackson speaks on a radio broadcast from the headquarters of PUSH at its annual convention.
• Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4 1968 and Jesse Jackson was with him in Memphis Tennessee.
• Martin Luther King’s successor was a man named Ralph Abernathy. Jackson and Abernathy did not see eye to eye.
• After a total falling out with Abernathy, Jackson resigned and organized a new group in the home of Dr. T.R.M. Howard.
• In 1984 Jackson organized the Rainbow Coalition which merged with Operation PUSH in 1996. Many members of the SCLC left in protest to follow Jackson. The National Youth Movement was then formed.
• During the 1980’s Jackson’s identity was well known and his influence was felt far beyond the borders of the United States.
• In 1983 Jackson traveled to Syria to secure the release of a captured American pilot, Navy Lt. Robert Goodman. After this event specifically, Ronald Reagan welcomed the efforts of Jackson more openly and invited him to the White House.
• In 1984 Jackson again help negotiate the release of twenty two American prisoners in Cuba.
• In 1997 Jackson traveled to Kenya to meet with President Daniel Arap Moi.
• In 1999 Jackson traveled to Belgrade to negotiate the release of three U.S. POWs and there met with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
• Jackson traveled to other countries such as Belfast, Venezuela, Ireland, and London.
• In 2006 in a poll taken, Jackson was voted the most important black leader.
Jesse Jackson ran for the position of President of the United States in 1984 and then again in 1988. Although he did not receive enough votes to run, he gave hope for many African American people for a changing country. Today he continues to leave his mark upon society.
• He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor bestowed on civilians.
• In 2005 he was enlisted as part of the United Kingdom’s “Operation Black Vote.”
• In 2006 he played a key role in the scandal caused by comedic actor Michael Richards’ racially charged comments.
• In 2007 Jackson was arrested for protesting at a gun store in Riverdale Chicago. The gun store had apparently been selling weapons to local gang members which was contributing to the decay of the community.
He was a very influential leader in today’s society and continues to be so.