In bringing in the New Year, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is not only laying out the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s (RPC) 2022 agenda—which includes ways to reduce violence—at the RPC headquarters on Saturday, January 1, at 10 a.m., he is working to get dozens of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) named after slaveowners changed in a more expedited manner, while also recognizing the 50th anniversary of Operation PUSH.
Officials from CPS blame the slowness of renaming 30 slaveowner-named schools on the pandemic and a change in the administration. However, students and supporters, like Reverend Jackson, want them changed faster. It would also be an opportunity to learn more about Black history and the slave era.
In Reverend Jackson’s traditional kick-off of the new year, he will have two of his PUSH Excel orators, Carleigh Lewis, an 8th grader at the Lindblom Math and Science Academy, and Gabriel Gathright to read excerpts from President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation Executive Order issued on January 1, 1863 that freed millions of slaves after nearly 250 years in bondage. The order did not free all slaves, but many.
“The Emancipation Proclamation is the most consequential executive order in the history of the United States,” said Reverend Jackson. “For every American who cherishes freedom and democracy, New Year’s Day should mean far more than college bowl games and parades. The nation must receive and reclaim the true meaning and significance of January 1, 1863 EmancipationDay.”
Reverend Janette Wilson, senior advisor to Reverend Jackson, said, “No slaves were free. We were in complete and total bondage. The Emancipation Proclamation freed enough slaves, so that they could help the Union Army defeat the Confederacy, and it removed the free labor the Confederate enjoyed from the slaves. It was a political, economic and military move.
“The free labor movement began the whole idea of tipping because up until the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were the free labor and whites who worked in restaurants and in the service industry were paid wages,” Wilson said. “They decided to ask for a raise because there were no longer any free slaves to do the work for nothing.”
Reverend Wilson went on to say the Emancipation Proclamation did not cover all persons who were enslaved. Quoting from the book, “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander, Reverend Wilson said, “The prison system has always been a slave system. It was operating then, and it is operating today.”
Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said, “It has become a tradition under the leadership of Reverend Jackson to review the history related to the Emancipation Proclamation in that it is forensically connected to the quest of Black people seeking freedom in America. Reverend Jackson is correct in saying ‘the slaves freed Lincoln.’ The misinterpretation of the events that led to the Emancipation Proclamation must be systematically addressed and corrected, so that now as we fight for the right to vote, access to capital, health care and equal protection under the law. As we move forward, we must reckon with the fact that we are free, but still not equal.”
Members of the clergy will speak about how Reverend Jackson and Operation PUSH—born on December 25, 1971—impacted their lives. Panelists include Reverend James Meeks, Salem Baptist Church; Bishop Grant of Greater First Baptist Church; Bishop Simon Gordon, Triedstone Church of Chicago; Reverend Marshall Hatch, New Mount Pilgrim MBC; Reverend Keith Evans, Greater Mount Eagle MB Church, Racine, Wisconsin; and 7th District Congressman Danny K. Davis.
In 1966, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. chose Reverend Jackson to head the Chicago branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) economic arm, Operation Breadbasket. The name changed, but the mission is the same.
Initially, Operation PUSH’s motto was “People United to Save Humanity,” but Reverend Jackson changed it later to “People United to Serve Humanity.” In 1984, Reverend Jackson founded the National Rainbow Coalition, a social justice organization based in Washington, D.C. that was devoted to political empowerment, education and changing public policy.
In September 1996, the Rainbow Coalition and Operation PUSH merged to form the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to continue Dr. King’s work. The headquarters at 930 E. 50th St., is also known as “Dr. King’s Workshop.”
On the anniversary of Operation PUSH, Bishop Grant said, “The Rainbow PUSH Coalition has had a global impact on the landscape of civil and human rights in ways that will never be erased. Reverend Jackson created a platform that reverberated across the globe, that has galvanized and mobilized people who have learned how to turn their pain into power to become equipped to fight for freedom. The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is indeed Dr. King’s workshop through the work of Reverend Jackson and has also become the institution for human and civil rights.”
When asked how Operation PUSH and Reverend Jackson impact his life, Bishop Grant responded, “He has been in my life for 40 years. I met him while I was a sophomore in high school at my school, the Rezin Orr High School on Chicago’s West Side. It was one of the original PUSH Excel schools. The message of ‘I Am Somebody’ resonated in me and became my motivation to matriculate into the man that I have become. I’ve learned the art of leadership, the fundamentals of organizing, and the precepts of building coalitions. These priceless lessons have been taught to me by Reverend Jackson, and I am indebted to him not only redeeming my life but teaching me how live a better life.”
Reverend Hatch said, “Reverend Jackson has been pushing for justice for over 50 years, and I have been blessed to learn so much about ministry and social justice from the power of his example. His dynamic, prophetic leadership from the platform of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition has impacted the lives of people everywhere, and he has had a profound impact on my life as well.”
For Bishop Gordon, Reverend Jackson expanded his concept of ministry. “Reverend Jackson— through PUSH—introduced me to a greater level of social conscience as a pastor. At the same time, he also encouraged me to create business avenues outside of the local church.”
It has been transformative for Reverend Ira Acree to work with Reverend Jackson. He said, “Working with Reverend Jackson over the years has transformed my ministry. He taught me how to turn a local pulpit into a citywide and national voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. I believe having access to him, gave me a more personal connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Being a civil rights son of Reverend Jackson put me directly in the spiritual lineage of Dr. King because he himself was one of King’s trusted protégés. I also learned how to do extensive community outreach to the faith community by watching Reverend Jackson. Of course, he also taught me not to be satisfied by merely teaching private salvation. The clergy must use their influence to impact public policy so that our people don’t catch hell on earth,” added Pastor Acree.
Reverend Meeks spoke of how he accompanied Reverend Jackson to Kosovo when he successfully got three U.S. soldiers freed. When Reverend Jackson told Meeks they were going to meet with President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he felt “was the most feared man in the world,” Reverend Meeks admitted he was afraid, but not Reverend Jackson who told him, “He is just like you, a man who puts on his pants.”
Congressman Davis told of stories of how he has joined Reverend Jackson on many social justice actions over the years and praised his leadership.
Reverend Evans thanked Reverend Jackson for coming to Milwaukee to help the clergy fight the city’s taxing and taking of their churches. While they were unable to get a meeting with the mayor of that city, Reverend Jackson held a sit-in until the mayor emerged and met with the coalition. The mayor is seriously considering putting a moratorium on the practice of taxing and taking mostly Black churches.
When contacted, Father Michael L. Pfleger—who was not on the panel— said, “Reverend Jackson has been a role model, mentor, inspiration and friend. He has witnessed what it is to be consistent and unwavering in the fight for justice while rooted in faith. He has both a heart for God and people. I love him dearly.”
The Rainbow PUSH Coalition live broadcast is at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 1, 2022 on the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Facebook page or its YouTube channel.