JACKSON, JESSE LOUIS (1941–), Chicago and Washington, D.C., civil rights activist, founder of Operation PUSH.
Since the civil rights era, ask someone, Who is Reverend Jesse Jackson? and most people will immediately see visions of a civil rights leader or former candidate for president of the United States. Ask again, and others will describe him as an all-around social gadfly who moves from city to town to support ‘‘victims’’ of labor strikes, sexual harassment, or police brutality or economic underdogs who have lost the family farm to a bank in foreclosure. Jackson is probably the world’s most well-known civil, social, and human rights activist. However, long before his move into elective politics, and before he became a ‘‘celebrity’’ who seems to be everywhere all the time, he established a reputation as a brilliant organizer and strategist for helping African Americans in business and industry. Jackson is credited with serving as a catalyst and engine for economic empowerment, helping African American entrepreneurs and businesses gain access to practically every sector of large corporations that traditionally had shut doors in their faces. Early in his career he was instrumental in persuading Corporate America to hire and buy not only from black-owned companies that provided building maintenance and other nonprofessional services but also from law firms, publishing companies, office supply vendors, and other professional services providers.
Jackson, who was born in Greenville, South Carolina, experienced sitting at the back of buses and ‘‘Whites Only’’ signs throughout his formative years. Early on he showed promise as a rising star and was elected to the honor society in high school, where he impressed fellow students and teachers with his intel-