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Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity)

Operation PUSH (People United to Serve Humanity)

Founded in late 1971 by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Chicago-based Operation PUSH has always advocated a program demanding greater support of black-owned or -operated businesses and strongly encouraging corporations to hire more minority employees. With Jackson as its charismatic leader, Operation PUSH organized boycotts of companies unwilling to make agreements requiring increased minority hiring; combining his oratorical skills and national influence, Jackson was capable of effectively threatening the business of recalcitrant corporations. Originally called People United to Save Humanity, Operation PUSH grew out of, and originally had an agenda very similar to, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Operation Breadbasket, which Jackson headed until 1971.

One of its initiatives, PUSH for Excellence, or PUSH/EXCEL, was another plan inspired by Jackson to empower African Americans, this time through education. In the later 1970s PUSH/EXCEL received much national attention and substantial amounts of federal and private aid to establish programs to help minority schoolchildren. Several years later, auditors' reports concluded that the organization lacked concrete goals and an effective administrative structure. While it was scaled down considerably, PUSH/EXCEL continued to attempt to make schooling for black children a more enriching experience.

When Jackson left Operation PUSH in 1983 to lead his presidential campaign, the organization foundered. By the end of the 1980s it was financially insecure after a poorly supported boycott of the sporting goods company Nike left it deeply in debt. In early 1991 PUSH was forced to lay off temporarily all twelve of its salaried workers. After a plea from Jackson, prominent African Americans, black businesses, and community groups cooperated to raise the funds necessary to return Operation PUSH to a more sound financial footing.

Although he no longer held an official leadership position, Jackson remained a spokesman and adviser for Operation PUSH. In 1991 he announced a political agenda for Operation PUSH that was similar to the campaigns of the early 1980s but that incorporated pressing new concerns, such as the AIDS crisis and the problem of Haitian refugees. Operation PUSH continued to be a vocal advocate of black enterprise and entrepreneurs and continued to urge African-American youths to stay in school and not to use drugs or alcohol. In 1993 Jackson announced an Operation PUSH campaign to "save the children" of Chicago. This was part of a larger effort on the part of progressive black organizations to curb urban violence and increase opportunities for African-American children. Other initiatives forwarded by PUSH in the 1990s included cultural sensitivity training for police officers and proposals that youthful first-time criminal offenders be counseled by local ministers.

In 1996 Operation PUSH merged with the National Rainbow Coalition and is now known as the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The new organization's mandate remains similar to that of the original Operation PUSH; among other things it seeks social and economic justice and empowerment, advocates increased voter registration, and attempts to influence international trade and foreign policy. The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. remains the group's president.

See also Jackson, Jesse; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)


Frady, Marshall. Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson. New York: Random House, 1996.

House, Ernest R. Jesse Jackson and the Politics of Charisma: The Rise and Fall of the PUSH/Excel Program. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1988.

Rainbow/PUSH Coalition home page. Available from <>.

Reynolds, Barbara. Jesse Jackson: The Man, the Movement, the Myth. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975.

john c. stoner (1996)
Updated bibliography

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