Jesse Louis Jackson Sr.

Jesse Louis Jackson Sr.

AFGE leaders and staffers meet with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to discuss coalition building.

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Created: 10 October 2013

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Jesse Louis Jackson Sr. ( Burns; born October 8, 1941) is an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and politician. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Colombia from 1991 to 1997. He is the founder of the organizations that merged to form Rainbow/PUSH. Former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. is his eldest son. Jackson was also the host of Both Sides with Jesse Jackson on CNN from 1992 to 2000.

1988 presidential campaign

In 1988, Jackson again sought the Democratic Party presidential nomination. According to a November 1987 article in The New York Times, “Most political analysts give him little chance of being nominated – partly because he is black, partly because of his unentrenched liberalism.” However, his successes in the past made him a more credible candidate, and he was both better financed and better organized than in 1984. Jackson once again exceeded expectations as he more than doubled his previous results, prompting R. W. Apple of The New York Times to call 1988 “the Year of Jackson”.

Jackson with Maryland’s Sen. Decatur Trotter and Del. Curt Anderson during a Maryland Legislative Black Caucus meeting in Annapolis, Maryland (1988)

In early 1988, Jackson organized a rally at the former American Motors assembly plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, approximately two weeks after new owner Chrysler announced it would close the plant by the end of the year. In his speech, Jackson spoke out against Chrysler’s decision, stating “We have to put the focus on Kenosha, Wisconsin, as the place, here and now, where we draw the line to end economic violence!” and compared the workers’ fight to that of the 1965 Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama. As a result, the UAW Local 72 union voted to endorse his candidacy, even against the rules of the UAW.

Briefly, after he won 55% of the vote in the Michigan  Democratic caucus, he was considered the frontrunner for the nomination, as he surpassed all the other candidates in total number of pledged delegates. Jackson’s campaign suffered a significant setback less than two weeks after the UAW endorsement when he narrowly lost the Colorado primary to Michael Dukakis and was defeated handily the following day in the Wisconsin primary by Dukakis. Jackson’s showing among white voters in Wisconsin was significantly higher than in his 1984 run but was also noticeably lower than pre-primary polling had predicted. The back-to-back victories established Dukakis as the clear Democratic frontrunner, and he went on to claim the party’s nomination, but lost the general election in November.

Jackson’s campaign had also been interrupted by allegations regarding his half-brother Noah Robinson Jr.’s criminal activity. Jackson had to answer frequent questions about Noah, who was often referred to as “the Billy Carter of the Jackson campaign”.

At the conclusion of the Democratic primary season, Jackson had captured 6.9 million votes and won 11 contests; seven primaries (Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia) and four caucuses (Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont). Jackson also scored March victories in Alaska’s caucuses and Texas’s local conventions, despite losing the Texas primary.

Campaign platform

In both races, Jackson ran on what many considered to be a very liberal platform. In 1987, The New York Times described him as ” a classic liberal in the tradition of the New Deal and the Great Society”. Declaring that he wanted to create a “Rainbow Coalition” of various minority groups, including African American, Hispanic Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans family farmers, the poor and working class, and homosexuals, as well as European American progressives who fit into none of those categories, Jackson ran on a platform that included:

  • Creating a Works Progress Administration-style program to rebuild America’s infrastructure and provide jobs to all Americans,
  • Re-prioritizing the War on Drugs to focus less on mandatory minimum sentences for drug users (which he views as racially biased) and more on harsher punishments for money-laundering bankers and others who are part of the “supply” end of “supply and demand.”
  • Reversing Reaganomics-inspired tax cuts for the richest ten percent of Americans and using the money to finance social welfare programs
  • Cutting the budget of the Department of Defense by as much as fifteen percent over the course of his administration
  • Declaring Apartheid-era South Africa to be a rogue nation.
  • Instituting an immediate nuclear freeze and beginning disarmament negotiations with the Soviet Union.
  • Supporting family farmers by reviving many of Roosevelt’s New Deal – era farm programs
  • Creating a single-payer system of Universal Health Care.
  • Ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
  • Increasing federal funding for lower-level public education and providing free community college to all
  • Applying stricter enforcement of the Voting Rights Acts and
  • Supporting the formation of a Palestinian State.

With the exception of a resolution to implement sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid policies, none of these positions made it into the party’s platform in either 1984 or 1988.

The Rainbow/PUSH national headquarters in Kenwood,Chicago

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Created: 6 September 2007

Civil rights activism

SCLC and Operation Breadbasket. Jackson has been known for commanding public attention since he first started working for Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965, Jackson participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches organized by James Bevel. Dr. King and other civil rights leaders in Alabama. Impressed by Jackson’s drive and organizational abilities, King soon began giving Jackson a role in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), though he was concerned about Jackson’s apparent ambition and attention-seeking. When Jackson returned from Selma, he was charged with establishing a frontline office for the SCLC in Chicago. In 1966, King and Bevel selected Jackson to head the Chicago branch of the SCLC’s economic arm, Operation Breadbasket and he was promoted to national director in 1967. Operation Breadbasket had been started by the Atlanta leadership of the SCLC as a job placement agency for blacks. Under Jackson’s leadership, a key goal was to encourage massive boycotts by black consumers as a means to pressure white-owned businesses to hire blacks and to purchase goods and services from black-owned firms.


1973 Jesse Jackson speaks on a radio broadcast from the headquarters of Operation PUSH, (People United to Save Humanity) at its annual convention. July 1973. Photograph by source: (John H. White).

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Created: 1 July 1973

1975 Jesse Jackson surrounded by marchers carrying signs advocating support for the Hawkins-Humphrey Bill for full employment, January 1975.

By O’Halloran, Thomas J. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.03420. This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons: Licensing for more information., Public Domain, source: (

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File: Jesse Jackson participating in a rally, January 15, 1975.jpg

Created: 15 January 1975

People United to Save Humanity

People United to Save Humanity (Operation PUSH) officially began operations on December 25, 1971; Jackson later changed the name to People United to Serve Humanity. T. R. M. Howard was installed as a member of the board of directors and chair of the finance committee. At its inception, Jackson planned to orient Operation PUSH toward politics and to pressure politicians to work to improve economic opportunities for blacks and poor people of all races. SCLC officials reportedly felt the new organization would help black businesses more than it would help the poor. In 1978 Jackson called for a closer relationship between blacks and the Republican Party, telling the Party’s National Committee that “Black people need the Republican Party to compete for us so we can have real alternatives … The Republican Party needs black people if it is ever to compete for national office.”

International Activism

Jackson’s influence extended to international matters in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1983, Jackson traveled to Syria to secure the release of a captured American pilot, Navy Lt. Robert Goodman who was being held by the Syrian government. Goodman had been shot down over Lebanon while on a mission to bomb Syrian positions in that country. After a dramatic personal appeal that Jackson made to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Goodman was released. Initially, the Reagan administration was skeptical about Jackson’s trip to Syria. However, after Jackson secured Goodman’s release, United States President Ronald Reagan welcomed both Jackson and Goodman to the White House on January 4, 1984. This helped to boost Jackson’s popularity as an American patriot and served as a springboard for his 1984 presidential run. In June 1984, Jackson negotiated the release of twenty-two Americans being held in Cuba after an invitation by Cuban president Fidel Castro.  On the eve of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Jackson made a trip to Iraq, to plead to Saddam Hussein for the release of foreign nationals held there as a “human shield”, securing the release of several British and twenty American individuals.

Jackson in 1983

By Jesse Jackson, half-length portrait of Jackson seated at a table, July 1, 1983.jpg: Leffler, Warren K.derivative work: Fletcher6 (talk) – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsc.01277.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required.

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Created: 27 May 2010

Jackson at the University of Chicago in 2009

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Created: 13 April 2009

2012 Jesse Jackson spoke at the UN today for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In his remarks, Jesse Jackson highlighted the importance of freedom of expression in the fight for human rights and to combat racial discrimination. U.S. Mission photo by Eric Bridiers

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Created: 21 March 2012

2016 Jesse Jackson at the Islamic Society of North America  convention in Chicago in September 2016

CHICAGO – Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson speaks at the Islamic Society of North America’s 53rd Annual Convention in Chicago, Sept. 3, 2016. Secretary Johnson has been steadfast in his commitment to build bridges to American Muslim communities, having personally met with leaders in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, rural Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Detroit, Chicago, Columbus, Houston, Minneapolis, Dearborn, and Los Angeles. Official DHS photo by Barry Bahler.

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Created: 7 September 2016

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