Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1941-) African American clergyman and political leader.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson began his career as a civil rights activist with the Council on Racial Equity (CORE) in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the early 1960s. He was involved in the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and participated in the protest at Selma, Alabama (1965). He was also National Director of Operation Breadbasket, a group designed to advance black economic autonomy. After King's assassination, Jackson created various organizations to advance civil rights for African Americans. The "Rainbow Coalition" was the most prominent and was intended to mobilize a broad array of minority groups to participate in electoral politics. Others included PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and PUSH-Excel (PUSH for Excellence), a program designed to keep urban adolescents in school. Jackson ran for president in 1984, as did televangelist Pat Robertson, with moderate success, and again in 1988. Both candidates excelled in early primaries, with Jackson finishing second for the Democratic nomination, with 6.9 million votes from a loose coalition of the more disenfranchised members of society. He focused on a progressive agenda involving voting rights, affirmative action, homelessness, and an overall increase in the social safety net (health/elder care and so on). In 1991, he was elected Senator of the District of Columbia and was hailed as the third most admired man in America.

Yet, in 1992, he lost political influence, as least partially due to his association with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, which alienated the liberal Jewish wing of mainstream Democratic support. Now, Jackson faces questions about his ability to defend civil rights legislation. Although he strives to become "part" of the traditional two-party system, Jackson can act independently, and appear erratic, as in 1979 when he tried on his own to negotiate relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It is this style that he may have most in common with Robertson. Thus while Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and Robertson's Christian Coalition may be ideologically antithetical, there is a charismatic and ego involvement driven by the styles of the two leaders that creates an interesting parallel.

Susan Zickmund


T. Celsi, Jesse Jackson and the Political Power (Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook, 1991)

E. O. Colton, The Jackson Phenomenon (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1989)

A. L. Reed, The Jackson Phenomena (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987)

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