Rev. Jesse Jackson’s decades of civil rights activism, political efforts

Jackson will step down as president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a merger of two organizations he founded.

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Jesse Jackson visits Stateville Correctional Center amid inmate revolt and hostage situation, Sept. 7, 1973.

Jesse Jackson visits Stateville Correctional Center amid inmate revolt and hostage situation, Sept. 7, 1973.

Sun-Times file photo

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s work and activism spans decades, from joining the front lines of the civil rights movement to helping negotiate the release of U.S. prisoners abroad.

Rainbow PUSH Coalition announced Friday that Jackson will step down as president of the group, a merger of two organizations he founded and whose national headquarters is at 930 E. 50th.

The civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017.

The announcement will come at the Rainbow PUSH annual national convention, where on Sunday Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks to the civil rights organization.

Here’s just a few of many highlights from Jackson’s decades-long career in civil rights, social justice, politics and humanitarian work:

1941

Jesse Louis Burns is born on October 8, 1941 in Greenville, South Carolina. He takes the last name of his stepfather in 1957.

1959-60

Jackson attends the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He later transfers to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College.

1963

During the summer of 1963, Jackson becomes one of “Greenville Eight,” a group of Black students protesting at the whites-only public library in Greenville.

When they refuse to leave after being asked, the group is arrested for “disorderly conduct.”

1964

After graduating from North Carolina A&T, he enrolls in Chicago Theological Seminary, but leaves school before acquiring a degree.

Jesse Jackson (far right) joins Al Raby, the Rev. Martin Luther King and Ed Berry at the Civil Rights Summit meeting in Chicago in 1966.

Jesse Jackson (far right) joins Al Raby, the Rev. Martin Luther King and Ed Berry at the Civil Rights Summit in Chicago in 1966.

Chicago Sun-Times file photo

1965

Jackson goes to Selma, Alabama, to march with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. after “Bloody Sunday,” when Alabama Highway Patrol troopers attacked civil rights demonstrators outside Selma.

Soon after, he starts working for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sitting with James Bevel, Jesse Jackson, Al Raby, and others at Greater Mount Hope Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago, Aug. 18, 1966.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sitting in August 1966 with James Bevel, Jesse Jackson, Al Raby, and others at Greater Mount Hope Baptist Church in Chicago.

Sun-Times file photo

1966

Jackson becomes the head of the Chicago chapter of the Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket, a national effort dedicated to improving employment opportunities for Black Americans by opposing discriminatory hiring practices.

Jackson was also among the leaders of King’s open housing marches in Chicago that year.

1967

Jackson becomes national director of Operation Breadbasket, serving from 1967 to 1971.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands with other civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy.

Associated Press

1968

Jackson is in Memphis, Tennessee, with King when the civil rights leader is assassinated on April 4, 1968. King had gone to Memphis to support striking garbage workers.

Later that year, Jackson becomes an ordained Baptist minister.

1971

Jackson resigns from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and forms Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity, later changed to “serve” humanity.) in Chicago.

The goals of Operation PUSH were economic empowerment and expanding educational, business and employment opportunities for the disadvantaged and people of color.

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to a crowd outside Chicago Police Department headquarters on Aug. 27, 1977.

Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks to a crowd outside Chicago Police Department headquarters in August 1977 protesting a racist comment by a Chicago police officer.

Jim Frost/Sun-Times

1972

During the Democratic convention in Miami, Jackson and Chicago Ald. William Singer unseats Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s delegate slate.

1975

Jackson founds Push Excel (for Excellence Inc.) to support students striving for excellence in education while also assisting them with job placement.

Rev. Jesse Jackson attends the funeral and burial of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in Chicago.

Rev. Jesse Jackson attends the funeral and burial of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in Chicago in February 1975.

Randy B. Leffingwell/Sun-Times

1983

Jackson enters the race for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.

He eventually collects more than 3 million votes during the primaries, finishing third in the race for the nomination behind Sen. Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who becomes the nominee.

Jesse Jackson receives a gift from Mayor Harold Washington after returning to Chicago from freeing a captured Navy airman from Syria, Jan. 10, 1984.

Jesse Jackson receives a commemorative gift from Mayor Harold Washington in January 1984 after returning to Chicago from freeing a captured Navy airman from Syria. Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination at the time.

Sun-Times file photo

1984

Jackson founds the National Rainbow Coalition, which grew out of his presidential campaign that year. The organization sought civil rights and equal employment and education opportunities for Black people, women and the LGBTQ community.

1988

Jackson runs for president again. He wins the Michigan primary, but Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis eventually wins the nomination.

1991

After meeting with Saddam Hussein, Jackson helps negotiate the release of foreign nationals being held in Kuwait.

1996

Jackson returns to to Operation PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition and merges the two groups.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton confer at the 2001 PUSH annual convention in Chicago.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton confer at the 2001 PUSH annual convention in Chicago.

Associated Press

1997

President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appointed Jackson as the special envoy of the president and secretary of state for the promotion of democracy in Africa.

1999

During the Kosovo War, Jackson goes to Yugoslavia to negotiate the release of three U.S. prisoners of war serving in a peacekeeper unit. The solders had been captured on the Macedonian border.

Rev. Jesse Jackson (second from right) leads a prayer with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (second from left), Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs Zivadin Jovanovic (left) and U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill. in Belgrade in May 1999.

Rev. Jesse Jackson (second from right) leads a prayer with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (second from left), Yugoslav Minister of Foreign Affairs Zivadin Jovanovic (left) and U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill. in Belgrade on May 1, 1999.

Associated Press

2000

President Bill Clinton awards Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor.

2012

Jackson appeals for the release of two Americans serving prison sentences for treason in Gambia.

2017

Jackson announces he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Rev. Jesse Jackson is injected with the COVID-19 vaccine in the Roseland Community Hospital’s parking lot in January 2021.

Physician Kiran Chekka injects Rev. Jesse Jackson with the COVID-19 vaccine in the Roseland Community Hospital’s parking lot on Jan. 8, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

2021

Jackson is publicly vaccinated against COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to help build Black community trust in the vaccine.

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