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Black History Month: Rev. Jesse Jackson

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As we continue our observance of Black History Month, we look at the life of South Carolina native Jesse Jackson.

Jesse Jackson was born in Greenville on October 8, 1941. As an undergraduate, he became involved with the Civil Rights Movement. As an associate of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Jackson was in Memphis when King was shot on April 4, 1968 but his exact whereabouts are a matter of controversy. Jackson also marched with King in Selma, Ala. in 1965.

Jackson graduated from North Carolina A & T in 1964. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1968 and began working for Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Chicago. Jackson was the national director from 1967-71.

Jackson left the SCLC in 1971 and began Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) in Chicago which served as his main platform for many years. In 1984 he founded the National Rainbow Coalition which merged with PUSH in 1996.

In the 1980s, Jackson ran for President on the Democratic ticket, finishing third in 1984 and second in 1988. In the 1980s and 90s, he traveled widely mediating various disputes. While government officials regarded Jackson’s efforts as meddlesome and self-aggrandizing, he won praise for obtaining the release of US soldiers and civilians around the world including in Syria (1984), Iraq (1990) and Yugoslavia (1999).

Jackson has seen his share of controversy. While running for President in 1984, Jackson was criticized for his relationship with Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and for making disparaging remarks about New York’s Jewish Community. He later apologized for his comments and distanced himself from Farrakhan. A dynamic orator, Jackson made memorable speeches at Democratic Conventions during this period.

During the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton during the 1990s, Jackson counseled the President and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. Clinton had also named Jackson a special envoy to Africa in 1997.


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