Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson
The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in
Profile of Reverend Jesse Jackson
Reverend Jesse Jackson was born on 8 October 1941 in Greenville, South Carolina (USA) as Jesse Louis Burns. He has dedicated his life to bringing people together on common grounds across the lines of race, culture, class, gender and belief. While an undergraduate at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, Jackson became involved in the civil rights movement. In 1965 he went to Selma, Alabama, to march with Martin Luther King Jr. and subsequently became involved in King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Jackson first visited South Africa in 1979 following the death of Steve Biko. He attracted huge crowds at his rallies in Soweto, where he denounced South Africa’s oppressive system of apartheid. In 1979 when he visited South Africa, he spoke out against apartheid, and he travelled to the strife-ridden Middle East and campaigned for the Palestinians to be granted their own state.
Upon his return to the United States, Jackson intensified efforts to mobilise opposition to the “terrorist state” of South Africa and reshape US foreign policy on the country. From the outset, Jackson strongly opposed then President Ronald Reagan’s policy of constructive engagement with the apartheid regime. He worked tirelessly to mobilise public opposition to the USA’s stance. Jackson entered the 1984 Presidential race with the anti-apartheid struggle at the centre of his foreign policy agenda and campaign platform.
In January 1985, Jackson met with Pope John Paul II and asked the Pontiff to visit South Africa to hasten fundamental change in country. Jackson engaged and lobbied the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to cut all diplomatic ties with South Africa and also called for the US to fund resistance to the South African government.
He also called on Harvard and other universities to divest from South Africa. In 1986, at the invitation of several African governments, Jackson led a delegation of activists, business representatives and academics to eight African countries, including the southern African “frontline states”. The focus of the trip was to mobilise opposition to the apartheid regime.