Jesse Jackson names Rainbow PUSH Coalition successor

During the annual meeting of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition civil rights organization he founded and has headed for over 5 decades, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., formally named Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III of the Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas as his successor. 

The Rainbow PUSH Convention was held on Sunday at the Apostolic Church of God in the Windy City’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Also in attendance was Vice President Kamala Harris, the event’s special keynote speaker, who had arrived at Chicago’s Midway Airport earlier on Sunday morning. 

“I am looking forward to this next chapter where I will continue to focus on economic justice, mentorship and teaching ministers how to fight for social justice. I will still be very involved in the organization and am proud that we have chosen Rev. Dr. Haynes as my successor,” Jackson said in a statement released by the organization.

Haynes has served as the senior pastor of Friendship West Baptist for the past four decades.

“Rev. Jackson has been a mentor and I have been greatly influenced and inspired by this game-changing social justice general, international ambassador for human rights, and prophetic genius. Sadly, justice and human rights are under attack in the nation and around the world. The work of Rainbow PUSH is as necessary as ever and I am committed to standing on the shoulders of Rev. Jackson and continuing the fight for freedom, peace, equity, justice and human rights,” Haynes said.

Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes III with Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Frederick Haynes/Facebook)

The White House released a statement from President Joe Biden, who has had a longtime working relationship and friendship with the civil rights leader for over 40 years:

“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. 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.

“Throughout our decades of friendship and partnership, I’ve seen how Rev. Jackson has helped lead our nation forward through tumult and triumph. Whether on the campaign trail, on the march for equality, or in the room advocating for what is right and just, I’ve seen him as history will remember him: a man of God and of the people; determined, strategic, and unafraid of the work to redeem the soul of our nation.

“Jill and I are grateful to Rev. Jackson for his lifetime of dedicated service and extend our appreciation to the entire Jackson family. We look forward to working with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition as he hands the torch to the next generation of leadership, just as we will continue to cherish the counsel and wisdom that we draw from him.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, the special keynote speaker, addresses the Rainbow PUSH Coalition on July 16, 2023, with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., seated behind her listening intently (Screenshot/YouTube)

Jacquelyne Germain, political reporter from the Chicago Sun-Times and the pool reporter accompanying the vice president, reported notable quotes made during Harris’ speech included:

“So today, we celebrate one of America’s greatest patriots. Someone who deeply believes in the promise of our country.”

“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.”

“Early on, he even had the audacity to name this coalition the National Rainbow Coalition.
He defined the rainbow. He was one of the first to define the rainbow. A coalition to push the values of democracy and liberty and equality and justice, not from the top down but from the bottom up and the outside in. He has built coalitions that expanded who has a voice and a seat at the table.”

“Across our country, we are witnessing hard fought hard won freedoms under full on attack by extremist, so called leaders. These extremists have an agenda, an agenda to divide us as a nation, an agenda to attack the importance of diversity and equity and inclusion and the unity of the Rainbow Coalition.”

“These extremists banned books in the year of our Lord 2023. They ban books and prevent the teaching of America’s full history. All the while they refuse reasonable gun safety laws to keep our children safe. Understand what’s happening.”

“Fueled by the love of our country, just as Rev. has done his entire career, let us keep hope alive” 

Jackson, 81, was an early supporter and a protégé of the iconic civil rights leader, the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., starting his work with King participating in the three Selma to Montgomery marches, held in 1965 along the 54-mile highway from Selma, Ala., to the state capital of Montgomery.

King gave Jackson a role in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), sending Jackson to head the Chicago branch of the SCLC’s economic arm, Operation Breadbasket, which he later was appointed president of in 1967.

At 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, King, SCLC leadership, Jackson and other civil rights activists who had gathered at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., to stand in solidarity with striking African American city sanitation workers, were on the balcony outside King’s room 306 when a shot rang out. King was leaning over the balcony railing in front of his room and was speaking with Jackson who was in the parking lot beneath the balcony.

The bullet struck the civil rights leader in his face rendering him unconsciousness and he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. King never regained consciousness and died at 7:05 p.m. whereupon in the aftermath, post-assassination rioting broke out in major cities across the nation.

On April 3, 2018, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Jackson spoke with a reporter from Scripps News about the events of that night:

In the years following the death of King, tensions between Jackson and King’s successor as chairman of the SCLC, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, created a rift that escalated until early December 1971, when Jackson, his entire Breadbasket staff and 30 of the 35 SCLC board members resigned and began planning a new organization which formed the basis for People United to Save Humanity (Operation PUSH) which officially began operations on Dec. 25, 1971, based in Chicago.

In 1984 Jackson organized the Rainbow Coalition and resigned his post as president of Operation PUSH to run for president. He became the second Black American to run a national campaign for president in a major party’s primary. 

Twelve years previously in 1972, Shirley Chisholm, a Democratic representative from New York’s 12th Congressional District, centered on Brooklyn’s Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood, was the first Black person, male or female, to run for president within a major party, and Chisholm became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s national headquarters at 301 E. Cermak Road in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. (Photo by Antonio Vernon)

The Democratic primary campaign races for president was a national political watershed moment for the country’s LGBTQ community. It marked the first time that all of the party’s leading candidates had sought the endorsement of LGBTQ organizations.

At the national Democratic convention held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco in 1984, Jackson became the first candidate to deliver a speech to mention gays and lesbians. In what became known as his “Rainbow Coalition” speech, Jackson said:

[…] “Our party is emerging from one of its most hard fought battles for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in our history. But our healthy competition should make us better, not bitter. We must use the insight, wisdom, and experience of the late Hubert Humphrey as a balm for the wounds in our party, this nation and the world. We must forgive each other, redeem each other, regroup and move one. Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow — red, yellow, brown, Black and white — and we’re all precious in God’s sight.

America is not like a blanket — one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: Many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. The white, the Hispanic, the Black, the Arab, the Jew, the woman, the native American, the small farmer, the businessperson, the environmentalist, the peace activist, the young, the old, the lesbian, the gay and the disabled make up the American quilt.” […]

Jackson decided to make a second run for the presidency in 1987. 

On Oct. 11, 1987, at the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which was thematically honing in on the HIV/AIDS crisis that had enveloped the LGBTQ community, among the speakers at the march rally, held on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, was presidential candidate Jackson along with gay U.S. Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studds, both Democrats from Massachusetts; former National Organization for Women President Eleanor Smeal and United Farm Workers Union President Cesar Chavez.

The 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

In his remarks, Jackson told the crowd of approximately 300,000: 

“We gather today to say that we insist on equal protection under the law for every American, for workers’ rights, women’s rights, for the rights of religious freedom, the rights of individual privacy, for the rights of sexual preference. We come together for the rights of all American people.” 

During the 1987 primary campaign, Jackson would often spar with the party’s frontrunner, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis over the governor’s apparent lack of proactive concern over the HIV/AIDS pandemic that had gripped the LGBTQ community with thousands dying from the disease. Additionally, there were many leaders in the LGBTQ community who viewed Dukakis as homophobic.

Former Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz, in his April 15, 1988, column reported that during a March primary debate, Jackson drew cheers from a vocal gay contingent at the debate when he spoke of the AIDS “hysteria.” Recalling the March on Washington, he said: “I saw people in their wheelchairs who are dying of AIDS . . . Not one of the {Reagan administration} officials would come downstairs and shake their hand.”

Kurtz also noted: 

“Dukakis is someone who has gone out of his way to hurt us,” said David Taylor, president of Manhattan’s Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a 400-member club that has endorsed Jackson.

The contest for gay voters is almost a microcosm of the larger campaign: While Jackson moves gays with his eloquent speeches on gay rights, Dukakis takes a more measured approach and finds himself pinned down on specifics from his tenure as governor, Kurtz reported.

After the 1988 campaign, Jackson, now living in D.C., ran for the office of “shadow senator” when the position was created in 1991, serving until 1997, when he did not run for reelection. This unpaid position was primarily a post to lobby for D.C. statehood.

While he declared that he would not be a candidate again for president, he and frontrunner Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton had a series of public disagreements after Jackson called for the creation of “new democratic majority.”

On April 26, 1992, Jackson and Clinton had a 40-minute meeting and emerged to announce that they were both committed to defeating Bush in the general election. Asked if he was ready to endorse Clinton, Jackson said,

“Well, if he wins the nomination of our party, he would be well on his way. We need a new president and we need a new direction. We cannot afford any more of what George Bush represents,” the New York Times reported.

The National Rainbow Coalition held a leadership conference June 13, 1992, entitled “Rebuild America: 1992 and Beyond,” Jackson and Clinton appearing together spoke about their plans for the future of the U.S.

Over the course of the 1990s Jackson devoted his time and efforts to stemming the rising gun violence, along with efforts to further advance civil rights for the disenfranchised minority communities. He also worked on the campaign for his son Jesse Jackson, Jr., who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as congressman from Illinois’s 2nd congressional district who served from 1995 until his resignation in 2012.

President Bill Clinton awards Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. (Screenshot of video from the Clinton Presidential Library)

On March 1, 2000, Jackson announced his support of and endorsed Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, for the latter’s presidential run. After George W. Bush won, Jackson was a vocal opponent of the Bush administration’s policies.

During the course of the rest of the decade Jackson was active in social and cultural issues often being present at numerous protests. One notable incident occurred in November 2006, after a white comedian, former Seinfeld actor Michael Richards launched into onstage racist tirade at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood directed at a Black audience member.

CNN later reported that Richards had called Jackson a few days after the incident to apologize; Jackson accepted Richards’ apology and met with him publicly as a means of resolving the situation. Jackson also joined Black leaders in a call for the elimination of the “N-word” throughout the entertainment industry.

Jackson was an early supporter of then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) who announced his candidacy in 2007 for president. In 2012, he praised then-President Obama for his decision to support same-sex marriage and compared the fight for marriage equality to the fight against slavery and the anti-miscegenation laws that once prevented interracial marriage, a position that brought immediate criticism from conservatives — especially evangelical and Pentecostal Black pastors.

After the infamous shooting death on Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla., of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin that brought about a national protests and in which his killer, George Zimmerman was later acquitted under Florida’s so-called ‘stand-your-ground’ law, Jackson refused to accept it, comparing the decision to the acquittals in the cases of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers decades earlier.

In the next few years he would also be vocal about the injustices and deaths of young Black males at the hands of primarily white law enforcement officials.

Jackson continued to actively work on behalf of civil rights causes as exemplified during the administration of President Donald Trump calling out some of the more blatant examples of white supremacy seemingly endorsed by Trump. 

As the 2020 election neared, Jackson said that Trump had left “African Americans in the deepest hole with the shortest rope” and predicted “African Americans — and particularly African-American women — will vote overwhelmingly for Joe Biden.” 

A few weeks ago, Jackson announced his plans to step down as the leader of Rainbow PUSH, following 64 years of civil rights activity within this movement. Aides said that his decision was brought about in consideration of his advanced age as well as health complications — Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017, and was hospitalized twice in 2021, after testing positive for COVID-19 and then following a head injury.

Rainbow Push Coalition: Celebration of Rev. Jackson’s life’s work:

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