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Jesse Jackson
Jesse Jackson 2013.jpg
United States Shadow Senator
from the District of Columbia
In office
January 3, 1991 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Paul Strauss
Personal details
Jesse Louis Burns

(1941-10-08) October 8, 1941 (age 81)
Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.
Political party Democratic
(m. 1962)
Children 6, including Santita, Jesse Jr., and Jonathan
Education North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (BS)
Chicago Theological Seminary (MDiv)

Jesse Louis Jackson ( Burns; born October 8, 1941) is an American political 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 Columbia 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 hosted Both Sides with Jesse Jackson on CNN from 1992 to 2000.

Early life and education

Jackson was born in Greenville, South Carolina, to Helen Burns (1924–2015), a 16-year-old high school student, and 33-year-old Noah Louis Robinson (1908–1997). His ancestry includes Cherokee, enslaved African-Americans, Irish planters, and a Confederate sheriff. Robinson was a former professional boxer who was an employee of a textile brokerage and a well-known figure in the black community.

One year after Jesse's birth, his mother married Charles Henry Jackson, a post office maintenance worker who later adopted the boy. Jesse was given his stepfather's name in the adoption, but as he grew up he also maintained a close relationship with Robinson. He considered both men to be his fathers.

School years

As a child, Jackson was taunted by other children about his out-of-wedlock birth and has said these experiences helped motivate him to succeed. Living under Jim Crow segregation laws, Jackson was taught to go to the back of the bus and use separate water fountains—practices he accepted until the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. He attended the racially segregated Sterling High School in Greenville, where he was elected student class president, finished tenth in his class, and earned letters in baseball, football, and basketball.

Jackson graduated from high school in 1959.


He rejected a contract from a minor league professional baseball team and got a football scholarship at the University of Illinois. After his second semester, Jackson transferred to North Carolina A&T, a historically black university in Greensboro, North Carolina. Jackson has said that he changed schools because of racial prejudice that existed in the University of Illinois.

At A&T, Jackson played quarterback and was elected student body president. He became active in local civil rights protests against segregated libraries, theaters, and restaurants. He graduated with a B.S. in sociology in 1964, then attended the Chicago Theological Seminary on a scholarship. He dropped out in 1966, three classes short of earning his master's degree, to focus full-time on the civil rights movement.

Civil rights activism

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

The Greenville Eight

On July 16, 1960, while home from college, Jackson joined seven other African Americans in a sit-in at the Greenville Public Library in Greenville, South Carolina, which only allowed white people. The group was arrested for "disorderly conduct".

SCLC and Operation Breadbasket

Jackson started working for Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965 he participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches organized by James Bevel, King and other civil rights leaders in Alabama. King was impressed by Jackson's drive and organizational abilities. King charged Jackson 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 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. Under Jackson's direction, Operation Breadbasket held popular weekly workshops on Chicago's South Side featuring white and black political and economic leaders, and religious services complete with a jazz band and choir.

When King was shot, Jackson was in the parking lot one floor below. Jackson told reporters he was the last person to speak to King, and that King died in his arms – an account that several King aides disputed. In 1969 The New York Times reported that several black leaders viewed Jackson as King's successor.

In the spring of 1971 Jackson was asked to move the national office of Operation Breadbasket from Chicago to Atlanta, but he refused to move. He organized the October 1971 Black Expo in Chicago, a trade and business fair. The five-day event was attended by black businessmen from 40 states, as well as politicians such as Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Daley's presence was seen as a testament to the growing political and economic power of blacks.

In December 1971, ackson, his entire Breadbasket staff, and 30 of the 35 board members resigned from the SCLC and began planning a new organization.

Operation PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition

20070906 Rainbow-PUSH Headquarters
The Rainbow/PUSH national headquarters in Kenwood, Chicago

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. Jackson planned Operation PUSH to work to improve economic opportunities for blacks and poor people of all races.

In 1984 Jackson organized the Rainbow Coalition and resigned his post as president of Operation PUSH in 1984 to run for president of the United States. In 1996 the Operation PUSH and Rainbow Coalition organizations were merged.

Political activism

During the 1980s Jackson achieved wide fame as a politician and a spokesman for civil rights issues.

1984 presidential campaign

Jesse Jackson, half-length portrait of Jackson seated at a table, July 1, 1983 edit
Jackson in 1983

On November 3, 1983, Jackson announced his campaign for President of the United States in the 1984 election. He became the second African American (after Shirley Chisholm) run for president as a Democrat.

In the Democratic primaries, Jackson surprised many when he took third place behind Senator Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who eventually won the nomination.

1988 presidential campaign

In 1988 Jackson again sought the Democratic presidential nomination. Jackson more than doubled his previous results.

Trotter, anderson and jackson
Jesse Jackson (right) with Curt Anderson (center) and Decatur "Bucky" Trotter (left) during a Maryland Legislative Black Caucus meeting in Annapolis, Maryland (1988)

Electoral history

1984 Democratic Party presidential primaries
Candidate Votes  %
Walter Mondale 6,952,912 38.32
Gary Hart 6,504,842 35.85
Jesse Jackson 3,282,431 18.09
John Glenn 617,909 3.41
George McGovern 334,801 1.85
Unpledged 146,212 0.81
Lyndon LaRouche 123,649 0.68
Reubin O'Donovan Askew 52,759 0.29
Alan Cranston 51,437 0.28
Ernest Hollings 33,684 0.19
1984 Democratic National Convention delegate voting
Candidate Votes  %
Walter Mondale 2,191 56.41
Gary Hart 1,201 30.92
Jesse Jackson 466 12.00
Thomas F. Eagleton 18 0.46
George McGovern 4 0.10
John Glenn 2 0.05
Joe Biden 1 0.03
1988 Democratic presidential primaries
Candidate Votes  %
Michael Dukakis 9,898,750 42.47
Jesse Jackson 6,788,991 29.13
Al Gore 3,185,806 13.67
Dick Gephardt 1,399,041 6.00
Paul M. Simon 1,082,960 4.65
Gary Hart 415,716 1.78
Unpledged 250,307 1.07
Bruce Babbitt 77,780 0.33
Lyndon LaRouche 70,938 0.30
David Duke 45,289 0.19
James Traficant 30,879 0.13
Douglas E. Applegate 25,068 0.11
1988 Democratic National Convention delegate voting
Candidate Votes  %
Michael Dukakis 2,877 70.09
Jesse Jackson 1,219 29.70
Richard H. Stallings 3 0.07
Joe Biden 2 0.05
Dick Gephardt 2 0.05
Lloyd Bentsen 1 0.02
Gary Hart 1 0.02
Shadow Senator from District of Columbia, 1990
Primary election
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Jesse Jackson 85,454 57.03
Democratic Florence Pendleton 25,349 16.92
Democratic Harry "Tommy" Thomas, Jr. 22,401 14.95
Democratic James Forman 9,899 6.61
Democratic Marc Humphries 6,739 4.50
Total votes 149,842 100.00
General election
Democratic Jesse Jackson 105,633 46.80
Democratic Florence Pendleton 58,451 25.89
independent (politician) Harry T. Alexander 13,983 6.19
Republican Milton Francis 13,538 6.00
Republican Joan Gillison 12,845 5.69
D.C. Statehood Green Keith M. Wilkerson 4,545 2.01
D.C. Statehood Green Anthony W. Peacock 4,285 1.90
independent (politician) John West 3,621 1.60
independent (politician) David L. Whitehead 3,341 1.48
Socialist Workers Sam Manuel 2,765 1.23
independent (politician) Lee Black 2,728 1.21
Total votes 215,735 100.00
Democrat win (new seat)

Personal life

20120811 Jesse Jackson at the Bud Billiken Parade
Jackson at the 2012 Bud Billiken Parade

Jackson married Jacqueline Lavinia Brown (born 1944) on December 31, 1962 and together they have five children: Santita (1963), Jesse Jr. (1965), Jonathan Luther (1966), Yusef DuBois (1970), and Jacqueline Lavinia (1975).

Jackson's younger brother, Charles "Chuck" Jackson, was a singer with the vocal group The Independents. As a solo artist he issued two albums in the late 1970s. Along with his songwriting partner and fellow producer, Marvin Yancy, he was largely responsible for launching the career of Natalie Cole.

In November 2017, Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Interesting facts about Jesse Jackson

  • Jackson was ordained a minister in 1968.
  • He was awarded a Master of Divinity Degree in 2000 based on his previous credits earned plus his life experience and subsequent work.
  • On November 4, 2008, Jackson attended the Obama victory rally in Chicago's Grant Park. In the moments before Obama spoke, Jackson was seen in tears.
  • He favored federal legislation extending marriage rights to gay people.
  • In the 2016 United States presidential election he endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
  • During the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis he delivered food to activists occupying the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, D.C.
  • Ebony Magazine named Jackson to its "100 most influential black Americans" list in 1971.


  • In 1979, Jackson received the Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged.
  • In 1988, the NAACP awarded Jackson its President's Award, and the next year, the organization awarded him the Spingarn Medal.
  • In 1991, Jackson received the American Whig-Cliosophic Society's James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service.
  • In 1999 he received the Golden Doves for Peace journalistic prize issued by the Italian Research Institute Archive Disarmo.
  • Clinton awarded Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor bestowed on civilians in August 2000.
  • In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante included Jackson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.
  • In 2008, Jackson was presented with an Honorary Fellowship from Edge Hill University.
  • In an AP-AOL "Black Voices" poll in February 2006, Jackson was voted "the most important black leader".
  • Jackson inherited the title of the High Prince of the Agni people of Côte d'Ivoire from Michael Jackson. In August 2009, he was crowned Prince Côte Nana by Amon N'Douffou V, King of Krindjabo, who rules more than a million Agni tribespeople.
  • In 2021, Jackson was appointed Commander the Legion of Honor, France's highest order of merit, presented by French president Emmanuel Macron, for his work in civil rights.
  • In December 2021, Jackson was elected an Honorary Fellow of Homerton College, Cambridge.

Jesse Jackson quotes

  • "Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up."
  • "Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things."
  • "No one should negotiate their dreams. Dreams must be free to fly high. No government, no legislature, has a right to limit your dreams. You should never agree to surrender your dreams."
  • "If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds."
  • "I was born in a slum, but the slum wasn't born in me."
  • "If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, I know I can achieve it."
  • "Both tears and sweat are salty, but they render a different result. Tears will get you sympathy; sweat will get you change."

See also

Women's History Month on Kiddle
Women Scientists of Antiquity
Mary the Jewess
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