CHICAGO (AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson plans to step down from leading the Chicago civil rights organization Rainbow PUSH Coalition he founded in 1971, the organization announced Friday.
“Reverend Jesse Jackson is officially pivoting from his role as president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition. His commitment is unwavering, and he will elevate his life’s work by teaching ministers how to fight for social justice and continue the freedom movement,” the organization said in a statement. “Rev. Jackson’s global impact and civil rights career will be celebrated this weekend at the 57th annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition convention, where his successor will be introduced.”
The Rev. Janette Wilson, a senior adviser to Jackson and longtime staff member of the organization, told The Associated Press that the civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate will address members Saturday about his decision.
Jackson, who will turn 82 in October, has remained active in civil rights in recent years despite health setbacks.
He announced in 2017 that he had begun outpatient care for Parkinson’s disease two years earlier. In early 2021, he had gallbladder surgery and later that year was treated for COVID-19 including a stint at a physical therapy-focused facility. He was hospitalized again in November 2021 for a fall that caused a head injury.
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Jackson, a protégé of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., broke with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1971 to form Operation PUSH — originally named People United to Save Humanity — a sweeping civil rights organization based on Chicago’s South Side.
The organization was later renamed the Rainbow PUSH Coalition with a mission ranging from encouraging corporations to hire more minorities to voter registration drives in communities of color. Its annual convention is set for this weekend in Chicago.
Jackson has long been a powerful voice in American politics.
Until Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Jackson was the most successful Black candidate for the U.S. presidency, winning 13 primaries and caucuses for the Democratic nomination in 1988.
Jackson has helped guide the modern civil rights movement on a wide variety of issues, including voting rights and education.
He stood with the family of George Floyd at a memorial for the Black man murdered in 2020 by a white police officer, whose death forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism. Jackson also participated in COVID-19 vaccination drives to battle hesitancy in Black communities.
Santita Jackson, one of his daughters, said in an interview that her father would not be vanishing. “While the flesh may not be willing, the spirit is,” she said, adding that she hoped her father would provide a living history. “Dr. King gave him his assignment and he’s been faithful to it in every iteration of his life. Many people have said Dr. King was the architect and Rev. Jackson was the builder.”
One of his sons, U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, told the Chicago Sun-Times that his father “has forever been on the scene of justice and has never stopped fighting for civil rights” and that will be “his mark upon history.”
Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson called Jackson “an architect of the soul of Chicago” in a statement Friday.
“Through decades of service, he has led the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and social justice. His faith, his perseverance, his love, and his relentless dedication to people inspire all of us to keep pushing for a better tomorrow,” said Johnson, who was endorsed by Jackson when he ran for mayor earlier this year.
Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network, said in a statement that he had spoken to Jackson on Friday morning and “told him that we will continue to glean from him and learn from him and duplicate him in whatever our organizations and media platforms are. Because he has been an anchor for me and many others.”
Sharpton called Jackson his mentor, adding: “The resignation of Rev. Jesse Jackson is the pivoting of one of the most productive, prophetic, and dominant figures in the struggle for social justice in American history.”
Fields reported from Washington, D.C. Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.