Jackson, Jesse L., Jr.

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Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.

Politician, minister

Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. began service in the United States House of Representatives on December 12, 1995, as a member of the 104th Congress. He was the ninety-first African American ever elected to Congress. The elder son of well-known activist Jesse Jackson Sr., Jackson Jr. was rapidly making a name and a place for himself in U.S. politics.

Jesse Jackson Jr. is the second of five children (the first son) born to Jesse Jackson Sr. and Jacqueline Jackson. He was born on March 11, 1965 in Greenville, South Carolina. On that date, his father was in Alabama with Martin Luther King Jr. participating in the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march.

Jackson grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where his mother was a dominant force in his early life. His father was away the majority of his early life participating in the civil rights movement. When his father was home, the two of them worked together for the non-profit organization PUSH (People United to Save Humanity, later changed to People United to Serve Humanity) that was founded by Jackson Sr. in 1971.

Jackson Jr. spent his early school years at LeMans Military Academy, a private junior high school located in Rolling Prairie, Indiana, and at St. Albans preparatory school, located in Washington, D.C., where he excelled academically and on the football team. Jackson attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, the same school where his mother and father met. In 1987, he graduated magna cum laude earning a B.S. degree in business management after only three years at the university. Three years later, he earned an MA. in theology from the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1990, and in 1993, he received his J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law.

Jackson spent his twenty-first birthday with his famous father in a jail cell in Washington, D.C. They had been arrested for taking part in a protest against apartheid staged at the South African Embassy. In 1987, Jackson met the woman he later married; Sandra Jackson, a lawyer and former television reporter, was politically active, working for Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign while Jackson Jr. was working for his father's campaign. She also worked for U.S. representative Cleo Fields. Prior to becoming involved in politics she worked for NBC in Toledo, Ohio. The couple married in 1991. Jesse Jr. and his wife settled in the Second Congressional District of Illinois. They had two children, Jessica Donatella and Jesse L. Jackson, III.

Before becoming an elected official, Jackson served as the national field director of the National Rainbow Coalition. In this role, he instituted a national non-partisan program that successfully registered millions of new voters. He also created a voter education program to teach citizens the importance of participating in the political process, including how to use technology to win elections and more effectively participate in politics. He also helped create JaxFax, a weekly facsimile and online weekly newsletter of the Rainbow Coalition.

His famous father influenced his career choices. Jackson watched his father's political activities and the results of the elder Jackson's social actions impressed him; he knew that he wanted a career in public service. This desire was also influenced by many of the political decisions made during the 1990s, such as the Supreme Court's efforts against affirmative action and proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid that made him question the government's care for the elderly. He told Ebony magazine: "There's something wrong about a government that would try to balance its budget on the backs of people who cannot defend themselves."

Wins Bid for Office

On September 9, 1995, Jackson entered the special election held in Illinois' Second District. In 1992 Mel Reynolds had defeated Gus Savage, who was well known in Congress for his chronic absenteeism and for his anti-Semitism. Reynolds, who was the first African American Rhodes Scholar, was highly praised by the press as a coalition-builder. But approximately halfway through his first term, he was in court being tried for having had sex with an underage campaign worker. In September 1995, the court found him guilty of criminal sexual assault and obstruction of justice, and he resigned from Congress. This vacancy led to Jackson's successful first run at politics.

Although he was young, Jackson had the experience of working with his father to prepare him. He had traveled with his father and had met every president since Jimmy Carter, as well as many other influential individuals, such a Pope John Paul II; Fidel Castro, Cuba's head of state; Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader; and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister of Israel. Also, at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, he had spoken briefly before introducing, along with his brothers and sisters, his father at the Democratic National Convention, a moment that gave him wide public exposure.

Jackson won a hard fought special election for the seat, representing south Chicago industrial neighborhoods and the racially diverse communities surrounding them. He ran in the primary in a district that was primarily Democratic against three political veterans. Jackson discovered that his youth served to his advantage, and he targeted those voters between the ages of 18 to 45, who were disheartened by the current system. Jackson's campaign efforts led to some 5,000 new voters being registered within thirty days. He accomplished this increase by visiting churches, as well as those areas that attract younger people.

On December 12, 1995, Jackson defeated his Republican opponent, T. J. Somer. Two days later, he was administered the oath of office by House Speaker Republican Newt Gingrich. The event was witnessed by Jackson Sr., who, at that time, represented the District of Columbia as a nonvoting member of the U.S. Senate.

Being a black liberal but fiscal conservative increased Jackson's popularity among the middle class. His voting record proves his support for labor unions, abortion rights, and environmental issues. Moreover, he has expressed his feelings that most racial debates are really economic ones.

Jackson sat on the following committees and subcommittees: the House Appropriations Committee; Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and on the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs. During his tenure, he proposed constitutional amendments to ensure that public education and universal healthcare are seen as human rights for all Americans.


Born in Greenville, South Carolina on March 11
Earns B.S. (magna cum laude) in business management from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State
Introduces his father at the Democratic National Convention Earns M.A. in theology from the Chicago Theological Seminary Marries Sandra Jackson
Receives J.D. from the University of Illinois College of Law
Elected to House of Representatives on December 12
Co-authors Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice, and the Death Penalty with his father
Co-authors It's About the Money! with his father and Mary Gotshall
Member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial commission; member of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics Senior Advisory Board
Co-authors Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America's Future with his father and Bruce Shapiro

Jackson's legislative initiatives also included the HOPE for Africa Act of 1999, which addressed the HIV/AIDS epidemic and set a framework for trade in sub-Saharan Africa. He worked to improve domestic healthcare needs in underserved communities by leading the successful effort to establish the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health in 2001. He served as a member of the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics Senior Advisory Board starting in 2000 and as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial commission starting in 2003.

Jesse Jackson Jr. is a member of the "Keep Hope Alive" Political Action committee; Democratic National Committee; and Operation PUSH. Jackson has received many awards, including honorary doctorate degrees from Chicago Theological Seminary, Governors State University, North Carolina A & T State University, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Meharry Medical College, and Morehouse School of Medicine.



Norment, Lynn. "Introducing Jesse L. Jackson Jr." Ebony (February 1996): 156-58.


"Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr." http://www.house.gov/jackson (Accessed 2 December 2005).

"Jesse Jackson Jr." Fair Vote. http://www.fairvote.org/ (Accessed 2 December 2005).

                                Mattie McHollin

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