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Rev. Jesse Jackson stepping down as president of Rainbow PUSH

Rev. Jesse Jackson
Ashlee Rezin
Chicago Sun-Times file
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is stepping down as leader of Rainbow PUSH, a civil rights organization he founded five decades ago.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate, will step down as president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition, an organization he founded and whose national headquarters is on the South Side.

One of his sons, Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Ill., said Friday there “is a determination made that in his current health and condition that he has appointed a successor and will formally announce it Sunday.”

Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017 and his son said “it is progressive” and his father often uses a wheelchair. The announcement will come at the Rainbow PUSH annual national convention, where on Sunday Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks to the civil rights organization. The program will include a tribute to Jackson to mark the 35th anniversary of his 1988 Democratic presidential primary bid. He also ran in 1984.

The representative said 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.”

Jackson’s decision to step down was first reported by The Crusader in an article written by Chinta Strausberg, a former spokesperson for Rainbow PUSH.

Last year, shortly after celebrating his 81st birthday, Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times he had no plans to slow down.

Jackson pointed to Nelson Mandela, a “senior citizen as a freedom fighter,” and President Joe Biden as public figures who also did not pump the brakes despite their age.

“I find fulfillment in my work. It’s my sense of purpose,” he said at the time. “I do everything with a sense of purpose.”

A spokesperson at Rainbow PUSH could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Jackson’s public activism began decades ago, when he was one of the “Greenville Eight,” a group of Black students (Jackson was a college freshman at North Carolina A&T) protesting at the whites-only public library in Greenville, South Carolina, where Jackson grew up.

In the years since, he remained active in the movement, formed Operation PUSH in 1971, ran for president twice and has, multiple times, successfully negotiated for the release of U.S. citizens being held hostage abroad. The Rainbow Coalition, which grew out of his 1984 presidential campaign, merged with PUSH in 1996.

In recent years, he’s continued publicly advocating for civil rights and various political campaigns while leading Rainbow PUSH.

Last September, Bishop Tavis Grant was appointed acting national executive director of Rainbow PUSH. That post had been vacant since 2017.

The appointment put Grant in charge of the Chicago-based organization, along with its affiliates around the country.

Grant has served in the organization in several capacities, including as a volunteer and national field director. He is the pastor of Greater First Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito