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