Chicago Freedom Movement

Fulfilling the Dream

Jesse Jackson


Jesse Jackson is a long-time civil rights leader and political activist who played an important role in the Chicago Freedom Movement. Born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1941, he attended the University of Illinois and North Carolina A&T, and came to Chicago in 1964 to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary.

Jackson was a student protest leader in the local civil rights movement in Greensboro, North Carolina, and then had worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in its Selma campaign in 1965. had long been involved in civil rights activity, particularly in working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). When SCLC decided to come to Chicago, Jackson, as a seminary student, had already been working as a civil rights activist on the city’s South Side and volunteering at the West Side Christian Parish. Jackson then turned to mobilizing black clergy to support the goals of the Chicago Freedom Movement.

Jackson became the coordinator of the Chicago program of Operation Breadbasket, which encouraged blacks to only patronize stores and restaurants that employed blacks. The program was effective, as it gained scores of new jobs at businesses that had hitherto hired only whites though had black customers.

Jackson also served as a member of the movement’s Action Committee, planning strategy for non-violent direct action. He led marches through the city’s Southwest side, Gage Park, and Oak Park. When Mayor Daley took out an injunction against the marches due to the racial violence they had provoked from the angry white residents in the areas where they marched, Jackson encouraged the movement to break the injunction and continue to march.

After the movement, Jackson led a successful campaign in 1969 against construction workers that did not allow minority participation. He founded the Coalition of United Community Action, a coalition of sixty organizations that shut down construction sites throughout the city. [Ralph 229] He later formed People United to Serve Humanity and the Rainbow Coalition, two civil rights groups that merged in 1996 to form the Rainbow/PUSH coalition.

In 1984 and 1988, he drew on the networks that his civil rights work had created to seek the nomination of the Democratic Party to be president. These historic campaigns helped make Jackson the best known civil rights leader in the country.

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