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Jackson: Remains True To MLK’s Push For Change

Jesse Jackson retires from leading Rainbow-PUSH after 52 years, leaving a powerful civil rights legacy and advocating for social change.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide


Fifty-two years after he formed it, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has stepped down from leading the Rainbow-PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) Coalition.

Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader, and two-time presidential candidate, announced his plans to retire during the organization’s annual convention last weekend.

Jackson, who will turn 82 in October, has remained active in civil rights in recent years despite health setbacks.

In 2017 he began outpatient care for Parkinson’s disease. In early 2021, he had gallbladder surgery, and later that year, he was treated for COVID-19, including a stint at a physical therapy-focused facility.

Jackson also participated in COVID-19 vaccination drives to battle hesitancy in Black communities.

He was hospitalized again in November 2021 for a fall.

Jackson and Andrew Young are two of the last close aides of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Last weekend, Jackson turned over the reins of the organization  to Rev. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, a senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, with more than 13,000 members.

“One of the things that I am quick to say is that of all of the degrees I may have, I must also confess that I’ve studied at the University of Jesse Jackson,” said Hayes, a longtime ally of Jackson.

“I first heard him as a college student at Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, and I was just blown away because I was trying to find my way in ministry. … Through the years, my formation in justice work had everything to do with Rev. Jackson.”

“I want to teach more, all that I’ve learned, to other preachers: How do you fight the nonviolent fight, focus on affirmative action, loan debt, focus on pulling gun shops down,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he would offer his guidance in academic settings, as well as in the field.

He said he will double efforts to get reparations for the three remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. A lawsuit filed by survivors was recently dismissed by an Oklahoma judge.

“The Supreme Court is setting the agenda — affirmative action, health care for women, rights in education – but we can’t afford that.

“They’re trying to take back the rights that protect the right to vote,” Jackson said. “The agenda is set by the opposition. I want Rainbow/PUSH to survive in that struggle and we have to have leadership help us.”

“I feel really good about what it is I’m called to do and because of my relationship with him, that is even more helpful,” Haynes said.

“I’ll be honest, the response I’m receiving from around the country has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive because … we don’t know life without PUSH and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. … What he was doing in ‘63, we need in ‘23.”


In a December 25, 1971 edition of the New Journal and Guide, an article headlined “Abernathy or Jackson” detailed Jackson’s split from the SCLC and his formation of Operation PUSH.

Jackson was head of the SCLC’s anti-poverty program Operation Breadbasket. But tension had built between Jackson and the old guard of the SCLC led by Ralph David Abernathy and the Executive Committee.

The tension was based on the Executive Committee’s concerns about how he ran the program.

The Committee relieved Jackson of his control of the program on December 3, 1971.

They placed him on leave with a salary to avoid raising tensions further. But Jackson resigned a week later.

On December 18, Jackson formed Operation PUSH.

SCLC leaders did not accuse Jackson of “outright   financial irregularities or dishonesty.”

But they disagreed with Jackson linking Operation Breadbasket with the Black Expo, a business advocacy program Jackson had built without consulting them.

The committee investigated the program and discovered that it had grossed some $450,000 in revenue in a short period of time.

Dr. Abernathy took over the SCLC after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. three years before, and denied the schism was over a power struggle between him and Jackson.


But Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH organization overshadowed the SCLC, launched by Dr. King and other southern pastors in the late 1950s. Over time it continued to fray as a force in civil rights advocacy due to infighting over leadership.

Subsequent stories in the Guide indicated that Jackson was not only about pushing for social equity but pressuring white corporations for economic inclusion and empowerment of Black people.

This was an advanced version of Dr. King’s last project highlighted by the “Poor People’s March.”

Jackson later changed the name of his organization to the Rainbow Push Organization.

One example of Jackson’s   success with PUSH involved the NIKE Sportswear company.

Jackson accused the company of exploiting Black consumers and denying them any economic inclusion in the company, including hiring and franchises.

Jackson called for a boycott of the company.

Today NIKE spends millions on sponsorships to high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, many of whom are Black.

The corporate brand today is centered around NIKE’s promotion of inclusion for people of color and women.

Dr. King and other activists in Montgomery used the boycott strategy to dismantle the segregation policy of that city’s bus transit company.


In the late 1970s, Black people made up 15 plus percent of Burger King’s customers. But there were no company executives and franchise owners.

Jackson used the Black and mainstream press to hammer the fast-food company.

In a November 30, 1983 edition of the Guide, the headline “Burger King announces first Black Franchise.”

Jackson engineered a “joint trade covenant with the Minority Franchise Association (it recently created) and Operation PUSH.

John Harris, Jr was the first Black Franchise owner, and he built his store in Atlanta.

In a short period, Black Franchises were built all over the country, including several in Hampton Roads.

Jackson, because of his friendship with Rev. Milton Reid of Norfolk and other activists in Hampton Roads, made frequent visits to Hampton Roads to speak at New Calvary Baptist Church, and devoted his support to various causes.

He led a march to support union workers and spoke out against Norfolk’s ending school busing to desegregate its schools

Until Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Jackson was the most successful Black candidate for the U.S. presidency, winning 13 primaries and caucuses for the Democratic nomination.

When Jackson launched his campaign for President in 1988, a great deal of support was marshaled in Virginia.  Jackson won the State’s Democratic party race, at a convention held in Norfolk, orchestrated by Bishop Levi Willis.


Willis formed a franchise of Rainbow Push in Norfolk. It eventually replaced the Concerned Citizens headed by Evelyn Butts that spearheaded Black political activity in the city in the 60s and 70s.

Jackson lost the nomination to Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, but he wielded a great deal of power in the Democratic party for years.

He continued to be relevant during the Black Lives Matters (BLM) Movement.

He stood with the family of George Floyd at a memorial for the Black man murdered in 2020 by a white police officer, whose death forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.

Vice President Kamala Harris paid tribute to Jackson on the final day of the   Rainbow PUSH Coalition Convention. She slammed the Conservative Republican  agenda seeking to destroy the civil rights gains that Jackson and other longtime advocates fought to secure, especially diversity.

“At the core of Rev’s work is the belief that the diversity of our nation is not a weakness or an afterthought, but instead, our greatest strength,” she said.

“The promise of America is that we are all created equal in the image of God and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives,”  President Joe Biden said on July 17. “While we’ve never fully lived up to that promise, we’ve never fully walked away from it because of extraordinary leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.”

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