Commentary: The most important figure in blacks’ economic history

Commentary: The most important figure  in blacks’ economic history
July 19
01:30 2018

By William Reed

Who has had economic impact across black communities similar to Jesse Jackson?  At its convention celebration of 191 years of the Black Press, the Black Press of America presented a “Lifetime Legacy Award” to Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, warts and all.

Jesse Jackson is one of the most influential African-Americans of the late 20th century.  Over the past half-century, Jackson has played a pivotal role in Black Americans’ equality, empowerment and economic and social justice.  He rose to prominence working within Martin Luther King Jr’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As he evolved, founded People United to Save Humanity (PUSH), the organization he founded in 1971, Jackson pressed for broader employment opportunities for African-Americans.

Black publishers see Jesse is one of the most important figures in American Blacks’ economic history.  Beyond his forays in national politics, Jesse has made the most blacks millionaires.    

Jesse Louis Jackson Sr. (born Oct. 8, 1941) has gained worldwide acclaim as a civil rights activist, Baptist minister and politician who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.  He served on the national level as shadow U.S. senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997 in one of two special unpaid “statehood senator” posts to lobby the U.S. Congress..

Being black businesspeople themselves, Black Press publishers honored Jackson for motivating black people to engage in all aspects of business and sustaining in those operations.

Race is the most potent force in American politics, and no one has navigated it and manipulated it for longer, and with greater stature.  His complicated history reveals one whose influence is perhaps further reaching and more implicative of our nation than any other since its beginnings.

Jackson helped blacks’ economic advancement on Wall Street, with covenants, franchises and distributorships.   He honed his activist skills while attending a black college, North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where he became active in local civil rights protests against segregated libraries, theaters and restaurants. 

In 1966, Jackson headed the Chicago SCLC’s economic arm, Operation Breadbasket. Under Jackson’s leadership, a key goal was to encourage massive boycotts by black consumers as a means to pressure white-owned businesses to hire blacks and to purchase goods and services from black-owned firms. Operation Breadbasket held popular weekly workshops on Chicago’s South Side, featuring political and economic leaders and religious services.

Influenced by the example of Philadelphia’s Rev. Leon Sullivan, Jackson used the bargaining power of African- American church leaders and their congregations to foster “selective buying” (boycotts) to pressure White businesses to open up private sector jobs to blacks.  The boycott movement is traditionally linked to the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” protests, which based black people’s right to work on their status as consumers.  An aggressive black newspaper, the Chicago Whip, published fiery editorials endorsing the campaign.

While many label him as “opportunist,” Jesse Jackson is a proven “tree shaker” and “jelly maker.”  Like him, or not, Jackson has created thousands of job opportunities for blacks and helped make hundreds more millionaires. 

Jackson reigns as the consummate Black advocate. His Rainbow PUSH Automotive Project works to achieve diversity and inclusion in the auto industry at all levels; from dealerships to suppliers to employees.

Chicago Crusader publisher Dorothy Leavell said Jackson has “carried MLK’s legacy well.” Jackson has a net worth estimated at  $10 million. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and means something to everyone, and that something varies greatly from person to person.  In late 2017, it was announced that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but he is still in the limelight.

William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via

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