Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, founder of the Rainbow Coali¬ tion and two-time candidate for the Democratic Party’s presi¬ dential nomination, was bom in Greenville, South Carolina, where he excelled in high school football, baseball and basketball. He graduated in 1959 and accepted a football scholarship to the University of Illinois. Citing racism as the reason, Jackson left Illinois for the predominantly black North Carolina A&T College.
While at A&T, Jackson earned a reputa¬ tion for being more than just an athlete. As student body president, he was a fearless public demonstrator, leading sit-ins that sometimes ended in massive arrests, while proclaiming “I’ll go to jail and I’ll go to the chain gang if necessary.” He graduated in 1964 and attended Chicago Theological Seminary at the University of Chicago in 1965, following in the footsteps of some of the finest African-American leaders.
In 1965, Jackson met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (see no. 91), who became his men¬ tor until King’s death in 1968. King named Jackson head of Operation Breadbasket, a highly influential program within the South¬ ern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) designed to increase the economic power of African-Americans by involving them in white businesses that catered to black consumers.
Extremely charismatic as an organizer and as a leader of boycotts, Jackson was able to expand the Chicago- based program until Operation Breadbasket was busy finding jobs for African-Ameri¬ cans in every major city of the nation.
Jackson left Operation Breadbasket in 1971 and founded PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), which dedicated itself to increasing the economic power of African-Americans. The spin-off program that Jackson launched in 1976, PUSH for Excellence, was designed on the principle that educa¬ tion was the greatest tool to success.
Increasing the qual¬ ity of African-American education was directly tied to increasing their power in American society while improving the quality of life.Jackson expanded his interest to international issues, meeting with leaders in the Middle East in hopes of effecting peace.
His main successes came in 1984, when he used his friendship with Syr¬ ian leader Hafez al-Assad to free Navy pilot Robert Goodman, and his popularity in Cuba to free 48 American and Cuban pris¬ oners.
In the same year, Rev. Jesse Jackson made ran for the first time for the Democratic par¬ ty’s presidential nomination. Though he launched a highly visible campaign with the support of his “Rainbow Coalition,” which focused on the needs ofAmericans of all col¬ ors and gained support, he lost to Walter Mondale.
Running again in 1988, he lost to Michael Dukakis. Summing up the differ¬ ence in the two campaigns, Jackson said “…There were victories all over the place, and there are still victories to be had, after all. Mondale got 6.7 million votes and won; I got seven million and lost; Dukakis got nine million.” Because more Democrats voted in 1988, the seven million votes, which would have beat Mondale in 1984, weren’t enough to beat Dukakis in 1988.
Jackson has continued his influence upon American society with a highly suc¬ cessful syndicated TV show, a position as a shadow senator from Washington, D.C., and numerous public appearances.