The Great Unifier
The founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Jesse Jackson is one of the foremost civil rights, religious and political figures in the Unites States. Over the past forty years, he has played an important role in almost every movement for empowerment, civil rights, peace, gender equivalence, and economic and social justice. As one of America's noted and influential politicians, he has had a constant presence on the U.S. political landscape and is recognized for helping advance the involvement of minorities in politics. He was also a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. Jackson has been called the “Conscience of the Nation” and “the Great Unifier.”
Jackson, who was named AP-AOL's “The Most Important Black Leader” in 2006, has received many awards and honors for his work in civil rights and for peaceful social action. In 1991, the U.S. Post Office put his likeness on a pictorial postal cancellation that made him the second living person to earn such an honor. He has been repeatedly included in the Gallup List of the “Ten Most Respected Americans” and has been handed the prestigious NAACP Spingarn Award. He also has amassed countless honors from grassroots, civic and community organizations from coast to coast. In 2000, Jackson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton. The recipient of more than 40 honorary doctorate degrees, Reverend Jackson often gives speeches at major colleges and universities and has spoken at Howard, Yale, Princeton, Morehouse, Harvard, Columbia and Stanford.
From 1992 to 2000, Jackson hosted CNN's “Both Sides with Jesse Jackson.” He writes a weekly column that is syndicated by the Chicago Tribune and Los Angles Times. He has published two books, “Keep Hope Alive” (1989) and “Straight From the Heart” (1987). He also co-wrote the books “Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice, and the Death Penalty” (1996) and “It’s About The Money” (1999, co-written with his son, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.).
As for his personal life, Jackson is married to Jacqueline Lavinia Brown and has five children with her. His son, Jesse Jackson Jr., is a U.S. Congressman. Despite his marriage, Jackson was involved in an affair with a staffer named Karin Stanford and they had a daughter, Ashley, in 1999. The scandal was revealed in 2001 and led to Jackson's short-hiatus from activism. CNN reported that in August of 1999, The Rainbow Push Coalition had paid Stanford $15,000 in moving expenses and $21,000 in payment for contracting work. Apart from the 1999 Rainbow Coalition payments, Jackson gives $3,000 per month for child support.
Childhood and Family:
Jesse Louis Jackson was born on October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina, to Helen Burns. His biological father, Noah Louis Robinson, an ex-professional boxer and an influential figure in the black community, married another woman when Jesse was born. Two years after Jesse's birth, his mother married Charles Henry Jackson, a postal worker, who adopted Jesse in 1957.
Growing up in an area loaded with segregation and discrimination, Jesse attended Sterling High School, a segregated high school in Greenville, where he excelled academically and athletically. His athletic prowess attracted the attention of a professional baseball team, which then offered Jesse a contract. He declined the offer and attended the racially integrated University of Illinois on a football scholarship. He transferred to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) after a year due to the school's racial biases. At college, Jesse again showed his outstanding athletic and academic abilities. He later studied at the Chicago Theological Seminary, but postponed his studies when he started working full-time in the Civil Rights Movement. He earned his Master of Divinity Degree in 2000.
Jesse was married to his college sweetheart, Jacqueline Lavinia Brown, on December 31, 1962. The couple has three sons, Jesse Jackson, Jr. (born 1965), Jonathan Jackson and Yusef DuBois Jackson, and two daughters, Jacqueline Lavinia Jackson, Jr. and Santita Jackson. Jesse also has a daughter named Ashley (born in May 1999) with Karin Stanford.
Jesse Jackson displayed his interest in activism while a student. In 1965, he took part in Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement in Selma, Alabama, and upon returning from Selma, devoted himself to King’s endeavor to set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Chicago. He was quickly appointed the head of the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago and was promoted to national director the following year. An avid devotee of King, he was even present when King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
After the murder, Jackson began his increasingly conflict with Ralph Abernathy, the successor of King as head of the national SCLC, that culminated in December 1971 when Abernathy suspended Jackson for “administrative improprieties and repeated acts of infraction of organizational policy.” Jackson resigned and that same month founded Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity) in Chicago. In 1984, Reverend Jackson established the National Rainbow Coalition, a national social justice organization based in Washington, D.C. that dedicates itself to political empowerment, education and changing public policy. In 1996, the Rainbow Coalition merged with Operation PUSH to create the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Aside from his work in civil rights, Jackson has advocated such issues as the war on drugs, national health care, good relations with the Soviet Union and the Middle East, as well as ending apartheid in South Africa, among others. He also has had a crucial part in international affairs as a diplomat. His efforts include securing the release of 48 Cuban and Cuban-American prisoners and the release of a captured American pilot, Navy Lieutenant Robert Goodman, who was being held by the Syrian government (both in 1984). It was his later attempt that helped boost Jackson's popularity as an American patriot and served as a springboard for his 1984 presidential run. Running as a Democrat, Jackson became the second African-American to climb a nationwide campaign for President of United States and ended up in the third place after Senator Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who finally won the nomination. The civil rights leader made his second attempt in 1988 when he once again offered himself as a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. He lost to Michael Dukakis.
Despite his unsuccessful attempts as a presidential candidate, Jackson was voted one of Washington's two “Shadow Senators” in 1990. In October 1997, President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appointed Jackson as “Special Envoy of the President and Secretary of State for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa.” This official position allowed him to travel to several countries on the African continent and meet with national leaders like President Nelson Mandela of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency Daniel T. Arap Moi of Kenya, and President Frederick J.T. Chiluba of Zambia. Jackson's close relationship with Clinton was further established when the president was involved in a scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Jackson was an important presence by the President's side during the scandal and prayed with the Clinton family in August 1998 when Clinton disclosed his affair on national television.
In 2001, Jackson was forced to withdraw from activism for a short period of time following an affair with a staff member. More recently, he is known for having a key role in the scandal created by comedic actor Michael Richards' racially provocative comments in November 2006. A few days after the incident, Richard called Jackson to apologize, which Jackson accepted, and met with him publicly as a means of resolving the situation. Despite this, Jackson requested a ban on purchases of the newly released Season 7 DVD of “Seinfeld,” a TV show where Richards starred. Jackson also teamed up with other black leaders in a call for the elimination of the “N-word” throughout the showbiz industry.
More recently, In June 2007, Jackson was arrested in relation with a crowd protesting at a gun store in a poor suburb of Chicago, Illinois. It was reported that Jackson refused to stop blocking the front entrance of the store and let customers pass. He was charged with one count of criminal trespass to property.