Symbolic Politics at High Tide:
Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition
This book is devoted in good part to the study of the transformation of black politics from protest to systemic political participation. The campaigns of Jesse Jackson for president are emblematic of this transformation, in a sense the symbolic peak of this twenty-year transformation in the nature of the black freedom struggle. Jackson is a fitting embodiment of this process. He began his career as a protégé of Dr. King, the preeminent 1960s protest leader; in the decade of the 1970s he transformed himself into Dr. King's successor as the preeminent race leader and then in the 1980s made an effective transformation from protest and race leader to presidential candidate and party leader. The successes and failures of his campaigns test the limits of post—civil rights era black politics.
The idea of a black running for president is as old as the post—civil rights era. 1 The notion of a black presidential candidacy was one of the reasons for the calling of the National Black Political Convention in 1972. Indeed, the strategy and rainbow symbolism of the 1984 and 1988 campaigns have their origins in the 1972 Gary convention. Jackson was a major actor at Gary, calling for the formation of an independent black political party that would include progressive whites and that would field a candidate in the 1972 election. 2 The idea of a black presidential candidate and/or a black political party was aborted throughout the 1970s as a result of the ideological and factional disputes that eventually led to the convention's collapse. But the point here is that the original idea of a black running for president did not emerge full-blown out of Jackson's mind in 1983. It had been on the black agenda since the end of the civil rights movement. 3
Given that the idea of a black candidacy has been around since 1970, what are the factors that precipitated the Jackson candidacy in 1984? The Reagan administration was an important one. Its overt hostility to civil rights and its regressive social and economic policies threatened to reverse the gains of the 1960s civil rights revolution and retard