On July 16, Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson announced that he would pivot from his role as President of the National Rainbow Coalition to become a university professor and advisor to his successor, the Reverend Frederick Douglas Haynes III, an activist, and the pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. This announcement, accompanied by a laudatory speech from Vice President Kamala Harris, should have been front-page news. Instead, except for the Chicago newspapers, Jackson’s resignation from the group he founded in 1971 garnered very little national news.
However, Rev. Jackson’s transition from leadership was big news to the people who worked on his 1984 and 1988 Presidential campaigns. A couple hundred Jackson delegates and campaign workers gathered for a reunion at the PUSH headquarters on July 14-16 to reminisce and celebrate Jackson’s decades of leadership. The man whose mantra was “Keep hope alive” offered hope to those disheartened by the recent rise in racism, virulent anti-blackness, legislative and judicial hostility resulting in attacks on voting rights, and the reversal of affirmative action.
Jesse Jackson has not disappeared from the national scene. Instead, too many want to write Rev. Jackson off, just as they have attempted to write off history. The sentiment to ignore Jackson is the same sentiment that has allowed truth-deniers to introduce legislation outlawing teaching about race in forty-four states. Thanks to Jackson campaign veterans, though, the world will learn that biased journalists cannot bury either history or hope.
At a time when state legislators and Supreme Court justices have attacked voting rights, Jackson’s legacy in registering more voters than any other single individual in history is unassailable. And who can deny Jesse Jackson’s international impact – from his rescue of Lt. Robert Goodman from Syria through his work on the anti-apartheid movement and his relationship with Nelson Mandela?
His international reach is reflected in his participation in this year’s PUSH conference, which includes delegates from several African countries, the Caribbean, and Europe.
His peers in the civil rights movement sent tributes of recognition. They came from the National Urban League’s Marc Morial to the National Action Network’s Al Sharpton, to tweets from Presidents Bill Clinton and Joe Biden to Chicago’s mayor Brandon Johnson, appreciation rained down on Rev. Jackson. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge defined PUSH – as “to press upon a thing with force to move it away, to move something in a specified way by exerting force.” She noted that PUSH has been a force for justice, a force against the barriers of racism. There are setbacks, she said, to be sure. But as long as that force is there, there will be change.
That the United States Vice President traveled to Chicago to salute Jackson crystallizes his importance to the nation and the world. Kamala Harris shared how important Jackson has been to her life and career and said she would not be Vice President were it not for Jackson’s work. Others shared similar tributes, and I, too, have a testimony. I met Jackson first in 1973 as an Essence Magazine intern and later worked on the 1984 campaign. I vividly remember his assertion in his speech at the Moscone Center that “God isn’t finished with me yet .”
Indeed, since 1984, God has continued to mold, shape, and bless Rev. Jackson.
Jackson isn’t giving rousing speeches anymore. But he still brings us to our feet. He doesn’t shout. The Parkinson’s he has battled since 2017 has reduced his mighty roar to a whisper. But his whisper is that of hope and history.
“Keep hope alive,” he tells assembled delegates.
“I am somebody,” he quietly encourages the crowd in his trademark chant.
And the delegates engage in the traditional call and response, amplifying Rev.’s voice, reminding him that while illness may have muted his voice, those who appreciate his contribution to history are ready to receive the baton he is passing and confront the evil forces that would eradicate our rights.
As long as we can chant back, keeping hope alive, Rev. Jesse Jackson’s place in history is secure. He inspires the nation and the world. Those who appreciate the Jackson legacy will not allow hope or history to be buried.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA. Juliannemalveaux.com.