Jesse Jackson

The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson Sr

The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson Sr. (born October 8, 1941) is a civil rights and political activist in the United States. He was a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 1984 Presidential election.

Early Life.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks on a radio broadcast from the headquarters of Operation PUSH, July 1973He was born as Jesse Louis Burns in a poor household in Greenville, South Carolina. He married Jacqueline Lavinia Brown on December 31, 1962. After attending the University of Illinois and North Carolina A&T University, he studied divinity at the Chicago Theological Seminary (although he did not finish his divinity studies), and began to organize in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. He claims to have been at King's side in Memphis when King was assassinated, April 4, 1968, though critics such as Kenneth Timmerman have contended that Jackson embellished his account. He was ordained as a Baptist minister later that year.

He formed two non-profit organizations, PUSH (People United To Serve Humanity) in 1971 and the Rainbow Coalition in 1984. Both groups were merged in 1996. In the 1980's he emerged as the most visible African American political figure, and became a spokesman for civil rights issues.

Presidential candidate.

In 1984, Jackson became the second black American (after Shirley Chisholm) to mount a nationwide campaign for President of the United States, running as a Democrat. A major controversy erupted during the early stages of the race, when Jackson was reported making off-the-record remarks in which he referred to Jews as "hymies" and to New York City as "Hymietown" remarks for which he later apologized. In the primaries, Jackson, who had been written-off by pundits as a fringe candidate with little chance at winning the nomination, surprised many when he took third place behind Senator Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who eventually won the nomination. Jackson garnered 3.5 million votes and won five primaries, all in the South.

Four years later, in 1988, Jackson once again offered himself as a candidate for the nomination. This time, his successes in the past made him seem a more credible candidate, and he was both better-financed and better-organized. Although most people didn't seem to believe that he had a serious chance at winning, Jackson once again exceeded expectations as he more than doubled his previous results, capturing 6.9 million votes and winning eleven primaries. Briefly, after he won 55% of the vote in the Michigan primary, he was considered the frontrunner for the nomination, as he surpassed all the other candidates in total number of pledged delegates. In the end, however, he lost the nomination, coming a close second to Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, the eventual nominee.

In both races, Jackson ran on what many considered to be a very liberal platform. Declaring that he wanted to create a "Rainbow Coalition" of various minority groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics, the poor and working poor, women, and homosexuals, as well as White progressives who fit into none of those categories, Jackson ran on a platform that included:

  • creating a WPA-style program to rebuild America's infrastructure and provide jobs to all Americans

  • reprioritizing the War on Drugs to focus less on mandatory minimum sentences for drug users (which he views as racially-biased) and more on harsher punishments for money-laundering bankers and others who are part of the "supply" end of "supply and demand"

  • reversing Reaganomics-inspired tax cuts for the richest ten percent of Americans and using the money to finance social welfare programs

  • cutting the budget of the Department of Defense by as much as fifteen percent over the course of his administration

  • declaring Apartheid-era South Africa to be a rogue nation

  • instituting an immediate nuclear freeze and beginning unilateral disarmament negotiations with the Soviet Union

  • creating a single-payer system of universal health care

  • ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment

  • increasing federal funding for lower-level public education and providing free community college to all

  • applying more strict enforcement of the Voting Rights Act

  • supporting the formation of a Palestinian state

With the exception of a resolution to implement sanctions against South Africa for its Apartheid policies, none of these stances made it into the party's platform in either 1984 or 1988.

Activities.

While Jesse Jackson was initially critical of the "third way" or more moderate policies of Bill Clinton, he became a key ally in gaining black support for Clinton, and eventually became a close advisor and friend of the Clinton family. Clinton awarded Jesse Jackson the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor bestowed on civilians. His son, Jesse Jackson, Jr., also emerged as a political figure, becoming a member of the United States House of Representatives from Illinois.

Jackson has been involved in several negotiations with foreign leaders to release Americans imprisoned as hostages. In 1984 he won the release of United States Navy aviator Lt. Robert Goodman from captivity in Syria. He has met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and Serb president Slobodan Miloševic in efforts to free various American detainees as well. Jackson is also known as a passionate orator, in the tradition of Southern US and African American Protestant preaching.

In 2003, Jackson surprised many observers by declining to endorse the campaigns of either the Reverend Al Sharpton or former Senator Carol Moseley Braun, the two African-American candidates in the race for the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nomination. Instead, Jackson remained largely silent about his preference in the race until late in the primary season, when he allowed Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, another presidential candidate, to speak at a Rainbow/PUSH forum on March 31, 2004. Although he did not explicitly voice an endorsement of Rep. Kucinich, Jackson described Kucinich as "assuming the burden of saying 'you make the most sense, but you can't win''.

He also writes for "The Progressive Populist".

In 2005 he was enlisted as part of the United Kingdom's "Operation Black Vote", a campaign to encourage more of Britain's ethnic minorities to vote in political elections ahead of the May 2005 General Election. His work involved giving speeches to ethnic audiences.

Also in 2005, he visited the parents of Terri Schiavo and their supporters, and supported their bid to keep the disabled Florida woman alive.

Controversies.

Although Jackson is known mainly for his works in the civil rights arena, many people have alleged that Jackson uses his influence and reputation primarily for personal gain. Jackson is seen by his critics as using racial politics to advance himself and his family's financial interests. Some of the allegations are covered in the book Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson by Kenneth R. Timmerman.

Jesse Jackson, his mistress and his wife. During the contested election of 2000, Jackson quickly became involved in pro-Democrat demonstrations in the state of Florida. Shortly afterward, it was revealed that Jackson (married since 1963) had an affair with a young staffer, Karin Stanford, that resulted in the birth of daughter Ashley. This seriously damaged Jesse Jackson's credibility even among long-time supporters, and - for a brief time - prompted Jackson to withdraw from activism. During this time, it was suggested by some commentators that Al Sharpton had usurped Jackson position as leading figure in the African-American political movement. Jackson appeared at several anti-war rallies in opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, Jesse Jackson has often been the center of controversy. Critics of Jackson claim that he has exploited poverty stricken black Americans in order to make money and gain political power.

Budweiser Boycott.

In 1982, Jackson launched a "this Bud's a dud" boycott of Anheuser Busch because it had only three black-owned distributors nationwide. After languishing for over a decade, the boycott movement received a boost when Budweiser's River North distributorship was accused by several of its black employees that they were being denied promotions. Jackson came to the aid of the employees in 1997 shortly after the first EEOC suit was filed.

Shortly thereafter, Anheuser Busch contributed $10,000 to Jackson's Citizenship Education Fund, contributed over $500,000 to the Rainbow PUSH coalition, and established a $10 million fund to help non-whites buy distributorships.

In 1998 the River North distributorship was purchased by two of Jackson's sons, Yusef and Jonathan Jackson. They refuse to publicly disclose how much they paid for the distributor but the business was worth an estimated $25 to $30 million. Shortly after the sale, Jackson dropped his prior support of the Anheuser Busch boycott campaign.

The St. Louis American, a black-owned paper in St. Louis, reported that Jackson had demanded $500 each from local black businessmen to help support the Anheuser-Busch boycott campaign. Jackson sued the paper for libel but dropped the suit when a judge ruled that the paper could inspect the finances of Jackson as well as his many organizations in order to prove their case.

Jackson's critics, such as Chicago Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak, claim that Jackson had in effect blackmailed Anheuser-Busch into selling the distributorship to Jackson's sons in exchange for Jackson dropping the boycott. They also point out that Yusef and Jonathan Jackson had no prior experience in alcoholic beverage distribution or any other business.

2004 Presidential Election.

Jesse Jackson's most recent project was gathering information and support to investigate the 2004 U.S. presidential election controversy, particularly the voting results in Ohio and its recount. Jackson called for a congressional debate on the matter, asking for a fair count and national voting standards, saying the elections in the United States each run with different standards by different states, with partisan tricks, racial bias, widespread incompetence, and are an open scandal. Jackson said he held some hope that the election could be overturned, although he admitted it is very doubtful.

Jackson compared the voting irregularities of Ohio to that of the recent Ukrainian presidential election, saying if Ohio was Ukraine the U.S. presidential election would not have been certified by the international community. Jackson has called Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell inappropriately partisan and that Blackwell may have been pressured by President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney to deliver Ohio to the Republican Party. Based on information obtained in hearings held by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and discovered during a flawed recount of the Ohio Presidential Vote called for by Green Party Candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Candidate Michael Badnarik, Jackson suggested the Ohio voting machines were "rigged" and some African-Americans were forced to stand in line for six hours in the rain before voting. When asked for evidence, Jackson replied, "Based on distrusting the system, lack of paper trails, the anomaly of the exit polls".

On January 6, 2005 U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary Democratic Staff released a 100 page report on the Ohio election. This challenge to the Ohio election was rejected by a vote of 1-74 by the Senate and 31-267 in the House. Many high-ranking Democrats chose to distance themselves from this debate, including John Kerry, despite Jesse Jackson personally asking Kerry for help. The call for election reform legislation and voting rights protection nonetheless continued from various citizen groups.