- NAME: Jesse Jackson
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Minister, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: October 08, 1941 (Age: 72)
- EDUCATION: University of Illinois, Chicago Theological Seminary, Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University)
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Greenville, South Carolina
- Originally: Jesse Louis Burns
- AKA: Jesse Jackson
- ZODIAC SIGN: Libra
Best Known For
Jesse Jackson is an American civil rights leader, Baptist minister and politician who twice ran for U.S. president.
Political Activism in Harlem (2:14)
A'lelia Bundles, a former producer for NBC News, talks about covering Jesse Jackson's 1984 campaign and his populist message to voters that they could make a difference.
Jesse Jackson saw the injustice of segregation and worked for Dr. Martin Luther King. Jackson fought for equal rights through his organizations, Operation PUSH and the Rainbow Coalition, and in 1984 and 1988, he ran for President.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, discusses famous figures who contributed to the history of political activism in Harlem.
Watch a short video about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how this advocate for peace and equality inherited his name from his father.
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Jesse Jackson was born October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina. While an undergraduate Jackson became involved in the civil rights movement. In 1965, he went to Selma, Alabama to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 1980s he became a leading national spokesman for African-Americans. After being appointed special envoy to Africa, he was awarded the 2000 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Deliberation and debate is the way you stir the soul of our democracy."
"We must not measure greatness from the mansion down, but from the manger up."
A pioneering and controversial civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson was born as Jesse Louis Burns on October 8, 1941, in Greenville, South Carolina. His parents, Helen Burns, a high school student at the time of her son's birth, and Noah Robinson, a 33-year-old married man who was her neighbor, never married.
A year after Jesse's birth, his mother married Charles Henry Jackson, a post office maintenance worker, who later adopted Jesse. In the small, black-and-white divided town of Greenville, a young Jackson learned early what segregation looked like. He and his mother had to sit in the back of the bus, while his black elementary school lacked the amenities the town's white elementary school had.
"There was no grass in the yard," Jackson later recalled. "I couldn't play, couldn't roll over because our school yard was full of sand. And if it rained, it turned into red dirt."
Jackson, though, showed promise and potential. His biological father would recall that he always seemed kind of special.
"Jesse was an unusual kind of fella, even when he was just learning to talk," Noah Robinson told The New York Times in 1984. "He would say he's going to be a preacher. He would say, 'I'm going to lead people through the rivers of the water.'"
In school Jackson was a good student and an exceptional athlete. He was elected class president and in the fall of 1959 attended the University of Illinois on a football scholarship. But Jackson spent just a year at the largely white school before transferring to the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now called the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University) in Greensboro, where he got involved in the civil rights demonstrations in the town. It was during this time that he also met Jacqueline Lavinia Brown, whom he married in 1962. The couple has five children together.
In 1964, Jackson graduated from college with a degree in sociology. The next year he went to Selma, Alabama, to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., eventually becoming a worker in King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1966, he moved his young family to Chicago, where he did graduate work at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Jackson never finished his studies, but was later ordained by the minister of a Chicago church.
Jackson made the decision to leave school in order to work for King, who, impressed with the young leader's drive and passion, appointed him director of Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the SCLC.
But Jackson's tenure with the SCLC was not entirely smooth.
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