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Today, Clint Smith is teaching you about the Civil Rights activist and Icon, Reverend Jesse Jackson. Jackson began his career working with Martin Luther King in the 1960s, and in the 1970s he founded PUSH, an organization to advance the cause of urban, poor, and predominantly Black communities. Jackson ran for president of the United States in 1984 and 1988, and founded another organization, the Rainbow Coalition. Jackson has worked for decades for the cause of Civil Rights and his long career has served as a bridge from the work of the 1960s to the movement for Black lives today.

Clint's book, How the Word is Passed is available now!

Marshall Frady, Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson (New York: Random House, 1996).
Ernest R. House, Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Charisma: The Rise and Fall of the PUSH/Excel Program (Boulder: Westview Press, 1988).

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CC Kids:
Hi, I’m Clint Smith, this is Crash Course  Black American History and today we’re learning   about Reverend Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH.  Operation PUSH was an organization founded in 1971   as a supplement to and continuation of  the civil rights victories of the 1960s,   as well as a response to the War on  Poverty, the Watts Rebellion of 1965,   and the subsequent rebellions that followed the  assassination of Dr.

Martin Luther King Jr.   PUSH attempted to fill a void in largely urban,  poor, and predominantly Black centers. Its leader,   the Reverend Jesse Jackson worked directly with  Dr.

Martin Luther King Jr. He was a powerful,   important voice during the Civil Rights  Movement. But the organization itself,   as well as Reverend Jackson, occasionally  struggled with public image issues.

So today   we’ll be discussing this landmark organization,  its founding, its successes, and its downfall.   Let’s start the show. [intro]   The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and  1960s saw important strides for Black Americans.   Part of a global movement of Black pride,  post-colonial struggles, and a burgeoning   sense of diasporic solidarity, the Civil  Rights Movement was marked by both social and   legislative victories in the United States. Some of these victories included the Civil   Rights Act of 1964 (which banned various  forms of discrimination in employment,   institutions, and privately-owned public  accommodations) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965   (which prevented state and local governments from  denying citizens equal access to voting rights).   The 1960s also marked the era of President  Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society,” which   saw significant legislative and social policy  pushes to reduce poverty nationwide.

It was   the largest social reform agenda in modern  history. It included the establishment of   a job corps for 100,000 disadvantaged men, a  Community Action program that allowed people   to tackle poverty in their own communities, plans  to help unemployed people find sustainable work,   money for farmers to purchase land, the  Fair Housing Act of 1968, and help for   unemployed parents entering the workforce. Johnson’s Great Society also established some   landmark programs that still exist today, such  as Medicare and Medicaid, and Head Start.   But Johnson’s Great Society failed to address some  key issues in the fight to eliminate poverty.   Some said his policies didn’t go far enough.  For example, many wanted Johnson to include   a universal basic income or guaranteed jobs for  the unemployed.

Additionally, the Great Society   didn’t address the issues that emerged from  global capitalism, such as large corporations   shifting their operations to low-wage markets,  which caused a decline in the number of stable   and well-paid manufacturing jobs that for so  long had been the catalyst of upward mobility   for millions of people in America. And some of the Great Society programs were   racially biased. They increased opportunities and  access for white families, but didn’t address the   needs of poor Black Americans.

Because the spread  of integration had led to so-called “white flight”   (where white families would move out of integrated  neighborhoods) this also caused a more informal   form of segregation that had lasting impacts.  Public schools with predominantly Black students,   received little federal funding, meaning  they had fewer resources, which exacerbated   already existing racial inequality. In response to the shortcomings of   government-sponsored social programs,  Black people nationwide continued the   freedom struggle. They achieved most success by  founding small, grassroots organizations from   within the community that could meet  their needs in a more specific way.   One successful example of this type of grassroots  organizing (that eventually snowballed into a   nationwide organization) was Operation PUSH (an  acronym that originally stood for People United to   “Save” Humanity that was later changed to People  United to “Serve” Humanity).

The organization   was founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1971 with  the specific mission to improve the economic   conditions of Black Americans in Chicago. Let’s learn more about Rev.   Jackson in the Thought Bubble.

Rev. Jesse Jackson was born Jesse Burns   (later adopting the name Jackson from his  step-father) on October 8th 1941 in Greenville,   South Carolina. Growing up in the segregated  South, he excelled in school and sports.   Jackson’s forays into political organizing  and social activism began in college,   where he became heavily involved in local  civil rights demonstrations.

In 1964,   he graduated from North Carolina Agricultural  and Technical State College in Greensboro,   North Carolina with a bachelor’s in sociology. After graduation he traveled to Selma, Alabama   to march with Dr. King, and became active in  King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.   The SCLC was (and remains to this day) a landmark  civil rights organization.

Alongside the SCLC,   Jackson helped coordinate civil  rights protests across the South.   In 1966 King appointed Jackson as the  first director of Operation Breadbasket   in Chicago. Operation Breadbasket was an offshoot  of the SCLC that got more jobs for Black Americans   by organizing various levels of boycotts against  companies that refused to hire Black employees.   Jackson was with King when he was assassinated on  April 4th 1968. Jackson was just 26 years old.   Within a couple years, Jackson exited from  the SCLC under a cloud of accusations from   other leaders (namely Ralph Abernathy) that he was  using the organization for his own personal gain.   He formally resigned in 1971.

Thanks Thought Bubble.   That same year, in 1971, Jackson founded  Operation PUSH. Although the organization   struggled financially in its early years, PUSH was  able to raise money from notable Black Americans.   PUSH sought to improve the economic  and social conditions of Black people   domestically and internationally. To that end they hosted a number of   direct action campaigns, had a weekly radio  broadcast, and gave out awards to prominent   Black people in the US and abroad.

Jackson saw  his work as part of what would become known as   a “Rainbow Coalition,”--a phrase originally  coined by Black Panther leader Fred Hampton—which   referred to a group of diverse Americans  working together to fight for justice for all.   One of the cornerstones of PUSH’s agenda was  weekly Saturday morning rallies at the Hyde Park   Headquarters of PUSH in Chicago. Strategically  scheduled for Saturday so that Jackson,   a self-professed “country preacher,” would not  have to compete with other ministers on Sunday,   the rallies were an important source of  Jackson’s influence in the community.   Operation PUSH established  several key social programs   that looked to improve the circumstances  of Black people in the Chicago   community. Jackson established a platform to help  Black homeowners, workers, and businesses and   founded PUSH Excel, a program that focused on  keeping Black youth in school and helped them   with job placement after graduation.

The program also successfully lobbied   organizations and major corporations with  a heavy presence in the Black community to   adopt affirmative action programs, which  included getting companies to commit to   hiring more Black people and people of  color as executives and supervisors.   PUSH held vigils and boycotts to win  these important employment concessions   and even managed to get several major corporations  to sign voluntary agreements to hire more Black   people, increase business with minorities, donate  money to Black colleges and other organizations,   and increase ads in Black publications. But despite these important gains, PUSH   suffered under the weight of public scrutiny.  Jackson’s high-profile image in the community,   and his role as the face of PUSH, meant that  criticism of Jackson was difficult to disentangle   from criticism of the organization as a whole. In  1983, Jackson launched his presidential campaign,   and formally resigned from his leadership  position within the organization.   In 1984, after he ended his presidential campaign,  Jackson formally launched a new organization,   the National Rainbow Coalition, which  sought equal rights for all Americans.   The new group positioned themselves as a counter  to President Ronald Reagan’s economic agenda,   known as “Reaganomics.” “Reaganomics” called for widespread tax cuts,   a decrease in spending for social programs,  and deregulation of domestic markets.   Many Black leaders believed that Reagan’s  policies contributed to unemployment and   economic instability in Black communities.

Jackson’s speech at the 1984 Democratic National   Convention was, like the organization he would  found, called “The Rainbow Coalition” and looked   to unite disenfranchised people from all walks of  life (poor whites, Black people, Latino people,   youth, Asian Americans, Native Americans,  disabled people, small farmers, and others).   As Jackson said, “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.

Even in our fractured  state, all of us count and fit somewhere.”   In 1996, Jackson’s new organization,  the National Rainbow Coalition,   and Jackson’s old organization, Operation  PUSH, merged to form a new hybrid organization,   the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. The merger continued  the mission of the previous two organizations   which sought to protect and gain civil rights  through economic and educational initiatives,   and to promote peace and justice worldwide. The new organization also pushed aggressively   for Black involvement in new emerging sectors  of American society such as Wall Street,   telecommunications, and in Silicon Valley.   The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is still operational  and continues to promote these ideals today.   Jackson’s vision served as a bridge from  the victories of the Civil Rights Movement   of the 1950s and 1960s to today, extending  the mission of social activists and allies.   His work addressed the political and economic  disparities in the Black American community,   as well as in communities of color worldwide.

Despite its many permutations and pitfalls over   the years, what Operation PUSH and its legacy  show us is the strength, power, and potential of   grassroots organizing, not only within the Black  community, but through communities nationwide.   As Jackson himself noted, it’s important to:  "Hold your head high, stick your chest out.   You can make it. It gets dark sometimes  but the morning comes. Keep hope alive."   Operation PUSH shows the way that the energy  of the Civil Rights Movement moved, changed,   and evolved beyond the 1960s and helped shape  the landscape of contemporary activism.   Thanks for watching.

I’ll see you next time. Crash Course is made with the help of   all these nice people and our  animation team is Thought Cafe.   Crash Course is made possible by  all of our viewers and supporters.   Thanks to all our Patrons who support the show  at Patreon, and all of you who participated in   the 2021 Crash Course Learner Coin campaign.  Your contributions support millions of learners.