The legacy of Rev. Jesse Jackson as he steps down from Rainbow PUSH, civil rights group he founded

Abu Mubarik July 18, 2023
Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

In 1971, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson formed the organization Operation PUSH to advocate for civil rights. The organization became Rainbow PUSH Coalition in 1996 following the emergence of the Rainbow Coalition out of his 1984 presidential campaign. 

Now the civil rights activist is stepping down from the organization, whose headquarters is in Chicago’s South Side, due to ill health. In 2017, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a neurological disease that affects movement, and the disease eventually led to him using a wheelchair.

As a result of his health condition, a determination was made to appoint a successor. The Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, has now taken over leadership. 81-year-old Jackson however remains connected to the organization, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition said in a statement.

“His commitment is unwavering, and he will elevate his life’s work by teaching ministers how to fight for social justice and continue the freedom movement,” the statement said. “Rev. Jackson’s global impact and civil rights career will be celebrated this weekend at the 57th annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention, where his successor will be introduced.”

Born on October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina, Jackson eventually became an ordained Baptist minister. He started activism decades ago when he was a college freshman at North Carolina A&T and would go on to become a protege of Martin Luther King Jr. He was one of the “Greenville Eight,” a group of Black students that protested at the whites-only public library in his hometown.

Since then, he has remained active in the civil rights movement, culminating in the formation of PUSH in 1971, running for president twice, and successfully negotiating the release of U.S. citizens held hostage abroad multiple times. Before Rainbow PUSH, he led the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket, the economic development arm of King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. After splitting from Operation Breadbasket in 1972, Jackson founded Operation PUSH, which later merged with the Rainbow Coalition. The aim of the coalition to this day is to agitate for a greater share of political and economic power for African Americans and the poor, according to the Chicago Suntimes.

Aside from running for president, he also successfully got elected as one of the District of Columbia’s “shadow senators,” when he moved to Washington as part of his drive for voting rights and statehood.

Jackson also left an indelible mark in the media space, hosting a show on CNN for eight years starting in 1992. He also authored a column for the Sun-Times. His civil rights activism saw him win multiple awards. In 2000, he received the highest honor a civilian can receive – the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

More about the legacy of Jackson and his coalition

Existing while black, as they say, in the U.S. in the 1980s consisted of mitigating social and political risks for oneself, Face2Face Africa earlier reported. 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.

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 recognize 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 spending by up to 15%. Jackson further demanded the creation of a single-payer healthcare system. Jackson was staying true to King Jr’s views on economic and political justice for black people and others underserved by America. Jackson was basically the Bernie Sanders of the 1980s. The civil rights activist “has widened the path for generations that would follow, including President Barack Obama and me as the first Black woman to serve as vice president of the United States,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a tribute to Jackson on the closing day of the annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 18, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates