Former presidential candidate and civil rights icon, Rev. Jesse Jackson, is stepping down as the leader of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition next week. Jackson, 81, founded Operation PUSH in Chicago in 1971 to advance the educational and economic interests of black people. And in 1996, he converged Rainbow and PUSH into a single coalition that became a powerful civil rights movement.
Jackson was born in South Carolina in 1941 and he attended the Chicago Theological Seminary. He became a human rights activist in the 1960s and he became acquainted with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. Jackson emerged as the leader of Operation Breadbasket in Chicago in 1966 – a division of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which worked to increase employment for black people.
When Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Jackson loomed large in the activism for human rights across the United States. He left the SCLC in 1971 to establish Operation PUSH and in the 1980s entered into politics. He spoke at the Democratic Convention in 1984 and was nominated for president, but lost to more powerful candidates. He tried to gain the presidential nomination again in 1988 but lost to Michael Dukakis despite winning the primaries in Michigan.
In 2017, Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but he continued to lead civil rights across America. In 2021, he marched in Wisconsin to protest the court acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse who killed two people during a public demonstration. His son, Rep. Jonathan Jackson, credited him with fighting for social justice within and outside the country.
“He’s had physical challenges, but he never stopped fighting,” Rep. Jackson said of his father. “He’s been fighting for Civil Rights since 1961. He didn’t give up when there were forces against the Voting Rights Act, or forces against the Equal Rights Amendment or addressing priorities at home or peace abroad.”
Rev. Al Sharpton confirmed that Jackson will be resigning as president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition and that he was his godfather in many respects.
“The resignation of Rev. Jesse Jackson is the pivoting of one of the most productive, prophetic, and dominant figures in the struggle for social justice in American history,” Rev. Al Sharpton said. “It was my honor since my mother brought me to him at 12 years old to serve as the youth director for the New York chapter of Operation Breadbasket, down through the last decade, to have been a student and protégé of his.”
The yearly Rainbow PUSH convention will run from Wednesday to Sunday. Vice President Kamala Harris is billed to be the guest speaker on Sunday. A new Rainbow PUSH leader, Jackson’s successor, is expected to be revealed at the event.