Jesse Jackson was born in 1941 in Greenville, South Carolina and started working in his grandfather’s woodyard when he was six years old. He attended local schools and graduated in 1959 from Sterling High School where he starred on the football, basketball and baseball teams.
After high school, he attended the University of Illinois for a year and then returned to North Carolina to enter the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, where he graduated with a BA degree in 1964. At A&T, Jackson was a football star and president of the student government.
He entered the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1965 and was ordained a Baptist minister three years later, becoming involved in the Civil Rights Movement in 1965.
Jackson served in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the national civil rights organisation led by Dr Martin Luther King, and participated in numerous marches and sit-ins. He was with Dr King in Selma.
In 1966, Jackson was chosen by Dr King to establish a Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the SCLC. Its objective was to improve the economic status of black people in their own community.
When Dr King was murdered by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, Jackson was standing beside him.
Jackson broke with the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, who assumed leadership of the SCLC after King’s death and founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) in 1971. The Chicago-based organisation sought to build a strong economic base within the black community.
In 1983, Jackson travelled to Syria to secure the release of a captured American pilot, Navy Lt. Robert Goodman (pictured at left with Jackson), who was being held by the Syrian government. Goodman had been shot down over Lebanon while on a mission to bomb Syrian positions in that country.
After Jackson made a dramatic personal appeal to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Goodman was released. In June 1984 Jackson also negotiated the release of 22 Americans being held in Cuba after an invitation by Cuban president Fidel Castro.
Jackson’s first try for a presidential nomination saw him come third in the Democratic primaries in 1984. In 1988, he lost again but significantly increased his popularity even with midwestern White voters – taking close to 7 million primary votes.
On the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, Jackson made a trip to Iraq to plead with Saddam Hussein for the release of foreign nationals held there as a “human shield”, securing the release of several British and 20 American individuals.
In April 1999, during the Kosovo War, he travelled to Belgrade to negotiate the release of three American POWs captured on the Macedonian border while patrolling with a UN peacekeeping unit. He met with then-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević, who later agreed to release the three men.
In November 2017, Jackson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.