By Chinta Strausberg
Having launched his civil rights career 57 years ago, Reverend Jesse Jackson, on Saturday, July 8, said he is stepping down as president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and that “there will be a new president soon.” He will announce his selection in a few weeks.
Jackson, who was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017, made the announcement on the weekly PUSH broadcast and afterward to volunteers working on the 57th annual convention, being held from July 15 to July 19. The theme of the international convention is “The Perilous Journey From Freedom to Equality.”
During the convention on Monday, July 17, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Jackson will receive the highest civilian award from the country of Colombia. Two years ago he received a similar award from France. The award presentation will take place at the University of Chicago’s David Rubinstein Forum, 1201 E. 60th St.
“It is quite impactful to have nations to reward Reverend Jackson for his global work. It is a testament to his day-to-day tenacity,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, acting national executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
In 1959 while a student at the University of Illinois, Jackson went home to Greenville, South Carolina. He went to the Black library to do research, but the books he needed were not there. When he went to the library downtown, he was told Blacks were not allowed.
Jackson returned in the summer of 1960 and with seven other students held a sit-in at the downtown library. His social justice activism led to the integration of that library.
Ironically, most of the convention will be held at the campus of the University of Chicago, where Jackson dropped out of the Chicago Theological Seminary to join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his fight for voters’ rights.
Grant said Jackson’s stepping down as president “is a natural progression to Reverend Jackson’s work and legacy. Reverend Jackson has been a builder, an innovator and ahead of his time.
“He has earned the right to navigate the organization in accordance with his passion, dreams and his desires,” Grant said. “We trust him.”
This year’s convention will be a display of Jackson’s 57 years as a civil rights leader. Grant said 168 medical students will be joining Jackson at the convention. They’ve taken an interest in social justice.
“This convention is very meaningful,” Grant said, “in terms of the culmination of Reverend Jackson seeing another African American mayor of Chicago, an expansion of the Congressional Black Caucus, seeing the growth and the matriculation of social justice and civil rights in the past three years…including Barack Obama and his two terms.”
On Friday, July 14, at 6 p.m., and Saturday, July 15, at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Jackson will be honored for his 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. “Delegates from around the country are coming, and we’re excited,” said Grant, who in 1984 was a student organizer. In 1988, Grant participated in the “Jackson Action” campaign run by Jesse Jackson, Jr.
On Saturday, Grant said, “There will be a reunion of campaign workers, people who through sweat, energy and commitment believed in the campaign of Reverend Jackson and the Jackson doctrine we call progressive politics today.”
During Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign, he shocked many with his “Rainbow Coalition,” where he racked up 3,282,431 primary votes or 18.2 percent of the total vote. Jackson was the second Black to run for president, after Shirley Chisholm. He came in third behind Senator Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Jackson, who is the first African American presidential candidate to win any major party, state, or caucus, surprised many when he won five primaries and caucuses, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and one of two separate contests in Mississippi.
While running for president, Jackson also conducted a national voter registration drive targeted toward Black voters. Both Bishop Grant and Reverend Janette Wilson, national executive director of the PUSH Excel program, said this helped to elect scores of African Americans across the nation.
Running a very inclusive campaign despite the rejection of his candidacy by many key Blacks, Jackson stunned many when he won 21 percent of the popular vote. Like his mentor, Dr. King, he reached out to all ethnic groups including Native Americans.
However, he only received 8 percent of the delegates, which he blamed on Democratic Party delegates. Jackson wanted more delegates to be awarded on the basis of a candidate’s statewide vote in primary elections, rather than on the number of delegates in Congressional districts.
He ultimately got those delegate apportionment rules changed, but it was too late for the 1984 presidential race. Jackson often says the changing of the delegate rules helped Obama win in 2008. In 1984 during the Democratic Convention, Jackson delivered a major speech entitled, “God is not finished with me yet.”
And he wasn’t. In 1988, Jackson ran again for president, this time racking up 6.9 million votes and winning 11 contests—seven primaries, Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and Virginia. He also won four caucuses, Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Vermont.