JACKSON, Jesse L., Jr.

JACKSON, Jesse L., Jr.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1965–

Biography

The son of one of the foremost civil rights activists of the 20th century, Jesse Jackson, Jr., won his first campaign for elected office when he prevailed in a special election to represent a U.S. House district that stretched across South Chicago and outlying communities. From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Jackson focused on improving the economy of his largely suburban district and attended to national issues affecting the African-American community, such as voting reform and health care. “I’m in Congress not because of something I’ve done,” Jackson once said, “but because of the many African Americans who have fought for me to be there.”1

Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., was born in Greenville, South Carolina, on March 11, 1965, the second of five children of Jesse, a civil rights activist, and Jacqueline Davis Jackson. He attended Le Mans Academy, a private military preparatory school, and graduated from St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. Jackson eschewed football scholarships from the University of Michigan, Notre Dame, and the University of Southern California, choosing to attend his father’s alma mater instead. Jackson graduated in 1987 with a bachelor of science degree in business management from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in theology from the Chicago Theological Seminary. In 1993, he completed his J.D. at the University of Illinois–Chicago College of Law.2 After earning his law degree, Jackson served two years as national field director of the Rainbow Coalition, a political organization founded by his father. Jackson’s wife, Sandi, whom he married in 1991, served as an alderman for Chicago’s 7th Ward. The couple has two children, Jessica Donatella and Jesse L. Jackson, III.3

In 1995, Jackson announced his intention to run for the U.S. House seat vacated by incumbent Representative Mel Reynolds of Illinois. The district, which included much of Chicago’s South Side and a swath of suburbs toward the south, was 69 percent black according to the 1990 Census. It was economically diverse, with rich and poor neighborhoods, abandoned steel mills, and tract suburban housing.4 Jackson won the highly contested Democratic special primary on November 29, 1995, with 48 percent of the vote, against Illinois state senators Emil Jones and Alice Palmer.5 In the special election on December 13, 1995, Jackson defeated his Republican opponent, former Chicago Heights police officer Thomas Somer, by a nearly three-to-one margin. Jackson was sworn in the following day, as Representative Sidney Yates—from a nearby North Side Chicago district and then the longest-serving House Member—introduced him on the floor.6 Jackson easily won re-election nine times.7

Jackson received an assignment on the Banking and Financial Services Committee when he joined the 104th Congress (1995–1997). In the 105th Congress (1997–1999), Jackson received an additional post on the Small Business Committee. In the 106th Congress (1999–2001), he left both panels after securing an exclusive post on the Appropriations Committee. From 2007 through 2012, Representative Jackson served as the second-ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. He also served on the Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.

Each Congress, Representative Jackson introduced several constitutional amendments for the right to vote, the right to a high-quality education, and the right to high-quality health care. “These amendments are important to me because until they are placed in the Constitution, Congress will not have the power to truly enforce them with vigor and force to make the necessary improvements to our society…,” he wrote.8 He also wrote the legislation that placed a statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. From his seat on the Appropriations Committee, Representative Jackson was the driving force behind increasing the funding for the Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative from $166 million in 1998 to more than $400 million by 2007, and he also supported increased funding for historically black schools for medical and health professions. He directed the effort to create the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health in 2001.

Representative Jackson also succeeded in obtaining humanitarian aid for sub-Saharan African countries, securing $500 million in emergency humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance for the Darfur region of Sudan in 2005 and $50 million in emergency humanitarian assistance for Liberia in 2006. For his district, Jackson secured hundreds of millions of dollars for job training, health care, education, transportation and infrastructure projects, and championed the construction of a third Chicago-area airport south of his district to foster economic development. “I represent political, financial and economic interests,” Jackson once said. “Interests that are different from many that people in this room represent. …I have chosen to describe the divide not in racial terms, which has historically been the history of Chicago, but in economic terms. What have I discovered? That when I do that, people can hear me.”9

Jackson was a strong proponent of President Barack Obama’s first term agenda. He backed the nearly $800 billion stimulus package in 2009, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, and the repeal of the Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy that excluded gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. He also worked to funnel nearly $150 million in federal money to a Chicago flood protection system known as the Deep Tunnel Project.10

Jackson’s effectiveness was limited, however, after he was implicated in a scheme by then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Obama’s election to the presidency. Jackson, though, was never charged with misconduct in that case.11 In June 2012, Jackson’s office announced that the Congressman was on a medical leave. After his re-election, Jackson resigned from the House effective November 21, 2012. Three months later, he pleaded guilty to charges that he spent campaign funds on personal expenses, and on August 14, 2013, a Washington judge sentenced Jackson and his wife to federal prison.12

Footnotes

1Renee C. Lee, “African-Americans Urged to Set Example, Vote Early,” 26 October 1998, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: 1.

2“Jesse Jackson, Jr.,” Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 14 (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1997).

3“Official Biography of Representative Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.,” http://www.house.gov/jackson/Bio.shtml (accessed 27 June 2007; site discontinued).

4Don Terry, “In House Election, A Familiar Name,” 24 November 1995, New York Times: A20; Politics in America, 1994 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1993): 457–458.

5Benjamin Sheffner, “His Last Name Prove Golden for Jesse Jackson Jr., Who Wins Big in Special Primary for Reynolds Seat,” 30 November 1995, Roll Call.

6Dirk Johnson, “Victory His, Jesse Jackson Jr. Heads to Congress,” 14 December 1995, New York Times: B17; “Jesse Jackson, Jr. Sworn in as House Member,” 15 December 1995, New York Times: A38; Mitchell Locin, “GOP Won’t Challenge Jackson in 2nd District,” 6 September 1996, Chicago Tribune: 1.

7“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics.

8Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., “Constitutional Amendments,” http://jackson.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=72&Itemid=77 (accessed 12 November 2012; site discontinued).

9Raad Cawthon, “Jesse Jackson Jr. Looks Past Tradition; As a House Member, the Son Takes Stand Independent of the His Father, Sometimes Stubbornly So,” 30 October 1998, Philadelphia Inquirer: A3.

10Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2011): 316–317.

11Politics in America, 2012: 316–317.

12Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 2nd sess. (27 November 2012): H6441–6442; Michel S. Schmidt, “Jackson Pleads Guilty to Wire and Mail Fraud,” 20 February 2013, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/us/politics/jess-l-jackson-jr-pleads-guilty-to-wire-and-mail-fraud.html (accessed 20 February 2013); Katherine Skiba, “Prosecutor: Jacksons’ Schemes Not ‘Particularly Sophisticated’,” 15 August 2013, Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-jacksons-schemes-not-particularly-sophisticated-20130814,0,7199146.story (accessed 15 August 2013).

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

The HistoryMakers

Chicago, IL
Oral History: 2000, three 30 minute Betacam SP videocassettes. An oral history interview of Jesse Jackson, Jr. conducted on May 12, 2000.

University of Texas, San Antonio
Archives and Special Collections Department

San Antonio, TX
Papers: In the records of the Texas Chapter of the National Organization for Women, 29 linear feet. Subjects include Jesse Jackson Promise Keeps.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

Jackson, Jesse L., Sr., and Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., with Mary Gotschall. It's About the Money!: The Fourth Movement of the Freedom Symphony: How to Build Wealth, Get Access to Capital and Achieve your Financial Dreams. New York: Times Business, 1999.

Jackson, Jesse L., Sr., Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., and Bruce Shapiro. Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America's Future. New York: New Press, 2001.

Jackson, Jesse, Sr. with Jesse Jackson, Jr. Legal Lynching: Racism, Injustice and the Death Penalty. New York: Marlowe & Co., 1996.

"Jesse Jackson, Jr." in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Appropriations
  • House Committee - Banking and Financial Services
  • House Committee - Small Business
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