Jesse Jackson is an American civil rights activist and minister. He was born as Jesse Louis Burns on October 8, 1941 to a 16 year high school student named Helen Burns out of wedlock. Jesse’s biological father was their 33 year old neighbor named Noah Louis Robinson who was married to someone else. His mother married Charles Henry Jackson who legally adopted Jesse, but Jesse remained close to both his biological and adoptive fathers. He grew up in a time of strict racial segregation, went to an all black school and was often taunted by other children for being born out of wedlock. However, he was a bright and active child, was elected the president of the student body and was active in many sports.
He graduated from high school in 1959 and was offered a contract by a professional minor league baseball team. However, he chose to accept a football scholarship to the University of Illinois, which was a predominantly white school. Less than a year later, he transferred to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College, where the majority of the student body was black. Here he played as a quarterback on the football team and was again elected president of the student body. Anti discrimination sentiment was at an all time high, and Jackson became an active participant in civil rights protests against racial segregation.
Jackson graduated from college with a degree in sociology in 1964. He came to national attention when he began working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He helped to organize protests and marches and was soon given a role in running the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and later made the head of “Operation Breadbasket”, an economic forum of the Chicago branch of the SCLC’s operations that focused on job placements for African Americans. They boycotted white businesses in an attempt to convince them to hire black workers. In 1962, he married Jacqueline Lavinia Brown whom he had met at civil rights demonstrations, with whom he has 5 children.
In 1966, the family moved to Chicago where Jackson studied at the Chicago Theological Seminary, and was later ordained by the minister. He continued to work with Martin Luther King, and was at the scene when Dr. Luther was assassinated. After King’s death, Jackson was at odds with many leaders in the SCLC and officially resigned in 1971. He then founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) to help blacks be economically independent. In 1984, he established the National Rainbow Coalition, which aimed for equal opportunities for African Americans, women and homosexuals. PUSH and NRC later merged to form a coalition.
Jesse Jackson began to travel extensively to highlight and solve racial disputes. He visited South Africa to speak against apartheid, the Middle East to show support for Palestine and Haiti to back their democratic efforts. In 1984, he ran for U.S. President and received 3.5 million votes and then again in 1988, this time gaining 7 million votes. He wasn’t successful in the Presidential elections but served as a shadow senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. Jackson has continued to lobby for civil rights and racial equality, but his public and private life have been marred by several controversies. For instance, he has been known to make derogatory remarks about Jews, and also about U.S. President Barack Obama. He apologized in both instances but his public image has suffered. In 2000, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton.