Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. (born Jesse Louis Burns; October 8, 1941) is an American civil rights activist and Baptist minister. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. He is the founder of the organizations that merged to form Rainbow/PUSH. Former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. is his eldest son. Jackson was also the host of Both Sides with Jesse Jackson on CNN from 1992 to 2000.
Early Life And Education
Jackson was born in Greenville, South Carolina, to Helen Burns, a 16-year-old high school student, and her 33-year-old married neighbor, Noah Louis Robinson, a former professional boxer who was an employee of a textile brokerage and a well-known figure in the black community. One year after Jesse’s birth, his mother married Charles Henry Jackson, a post office maintenance worker who would later adopt Jesse. Jesse went on to take the surname of his stepfather, but also maintained a close relationship with Robinson over the years, and considered both men to be his father.
As a young child, Jackson was taunted by the other children regarding his out-of-wedlock birth, and has said these experiences helped motivate him to succeed. Living under Jim Crow segregation laws, Jackson was taught to go to the back of the bus and use separate water fountains – practices he accepted until the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. He attended the racially segregated Sterling High School in Greenville, where he was elected student class president, finished tenth in his class, and earned letters in baseball, football and basketball.
Upon graduating from high school in 1959, he rejected a contract from a minor league professional baseball team so that he could attend the University of Illinois on a football scholarship. Following his second semester at the predominantly white University of Illinois, Jackson transferred to the North Carolina A&T, an historically black university located in Greensboro, North Carolina. There are differing accounts of the reasons behind this transfer. Jackson has claimed that he changed schools because racial prejudice prevented him from playing quarterback and limited his participation on a competitive public-speaking team. Writing on ESPN.com in 2002, sociologist Harry Edwards noted that the University of Illinois had previously had a black quarterback, but also noted that black athletes attending traditionally white colleges during the 1950s and 1960s encountered a “combination of culture shock and discrimination”. Edwards also suggested that Jackson had left the University of Illinois in 1960 because he had been placed on academic probation. However, the president of the University of Illinois reported in 1987 that Jackson’s 1960 freshman year transcript was clean, and said Jackson would have been eligible to re-enroll at any time.
While attending A&T, Jackson played quarterback and was elected student body president. He also became active in local civil rights protests against whites-only libraries, theaters and restaurants. He graduated with a B.S. in sociology in 1964, then attended the Chicago Theological Seminary on a scholarship. He dropped out in 1966, three classes short of earning his master’s degree, to focus full-time on the civil rights movement. He was ordained a minister in 1968, and in 2000, was awarded his Master of Divinity Degree based on his previous credits earned, plus his life experience and subsequent work