Jesse Jackson: A genuine pioneer of the modern fight for racial and political inequality

Nii Ntreh October 08, 2019
Jesse Jackson. Photo Credit:

In a 2007 interview with Vibe, civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, said in response to a question on whether the U.S. needed a black president to advance the cause of black people: “I don’t assume that just because somebody’s my colour, they’re my kind.”

That single sentence captures the intrigue of the quest for racial equity in America.

And if there was a man in our lifetime, whose lived experience embodied Sharpton’s thought in that opening paragraph, it’d be his fellow civil rights leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Today, October 8, 2019, Jesse Jackson turns 77. As the years wind down for a man often underrated in the pantheon of historical significance, recounts how Jackson’s inputs helped shape the racial politics in the modern U.S.

Prior to Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson was the most successful African-American to run for the U.S. presidency. In 1984 and 1988, Jackson had varying degrees of success running as to be the Democratic Party nominee.

His second time was an obvious improvement on his 1984 bid. Pundits were not eager to write Jackson off, and in the end, Jackson would eventually place second to Michael Dukakis.

This much may be trivial history but for us looking back, it is Jackson’s platforms from both presidential bids that make for critical appreciation.

The times were the 80s. It was very much Ronald Reagan’s America. The marriage between conservative politics and white evangelical Christian apologists had just kicked off a promising union.

Existing while black, as they say, in the U.S. of the 1980s consisted of mitigating social and political risks for oneself. Self-assertion and determinism were thought to be threatening to the white establishment, so much more than now.

The 1980s and early 90s were times when black people, having been politically alienated to a significant extent, tried to find ways to make the civil rights gains of the 50s and 60s useful.

It is not coincidental that this period marked the birth of hip-hop, the ultimate artistic expression of anti-establishment values.

In this period, Jesse Jackson was described by the New York Times as “a classic liberal in the tradition of the New Deal and the Great Society.” Jackson walked this tight rope while advocating what he called, a Rainbow Coalition.

The Rainbow Coalition was a dream that sought to unite all of America’s racial minorities, sexual minorities, poor whites, as well as, progressive elites.

Jesse Jackson was preaching intersectionality before it became a buzzword for the Twitterati. The out-of-wedlock son of a teenage mother and a father of modest means, Jackson had grown up to believe the causes of all society’s underprivileged intersected.

In 1988, apart from the usual call for the rights and dignity of black people, Jackson was asking Americans to recognise Palestine as a state while calling out Israel’s atrocities.

He was also against higher taxes on America’s richest 10% and demanded a cut in military spendings up to 15%. Jackson further demanded the creation of a single-payer health care system.

Jackson was staying true to Martin Luther King Jr’s views on economic and political justice for black people and others underserved by America.

Jesse Jackson was basically the Bernie Sanders of the 1980s. It is also important to note that Sanders supported Jackson’s presidential bid.

The modern quest for racial justice for black people is invariably tied into justice for others. This is where Al Sharpton’s sentiment makes sense.

And Jackson lived the spirit of the letter.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 8, 2019


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