Jesse Jackson

Learn more about the life of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
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Civil Rights Leader
Birthplace: Greenville, SC
Education: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University; Chicago Theological Seminary

Jesse Louis Jackson was born to Helen Burns and Noah Robinson on October 8, 1941, in Greenville, SC. His father was married to another woman. Jesse grew up in poverty. In 1943, his mother married Charles Jackson who adopted Jesse in 1957. Jackson attended a segregated high school and excelled in athletics and academics. He accepted a football scholarship to the University of Illinois. As a result of numerous encounters with racism, Jackson transferred to all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Jackson was enrolled in the Chicago Theological Seminary until he became active in the civil rights movement in 1965. He worked as an assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King asked Jackson to serve as executive director of Operation Breadbasket, a program that addressed economic problems of urban blacks. He was also ordained as a Baptist minister. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was with Dr. King when he was assassinated.

In 1971, Jackson founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), an organization that looked for ways to combat racism. He worked to help corporations implement affirmative action programs. Jackson also built the National Rainbow Coalition to organize racial minorities, the poor, peace activists, environmentalists, small farmers, working mothers, the unemployed, some labor union members, gays, and lesbians. These two organizations eventually merged into the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

In 1984, Jackson was the first African American to run for the Democratic nomination for president; he ran again in 1988. He inspired millions of African Americans to join the political process. In 1997, Reverend Jackson was appointed "Special Envoy of the President and Secretary of State for the Promotion of Democracy in Africa" by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Jackson is a renowned orator and continues to work for racial and economic justice.

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