(RNS) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson has transferred the presidency of his Rainbow PUSH Coalition to the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, another Black church leader long devoted to civil rights and social activism.
At the coalition’s annual convention in Chicago this weekend, Jackson, 81, became president emeritus of the organization he helped create, a decision he made due to an ongoing diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, according to the coalition. Haynes, 62, was introduced as the new president on Sunday (July 16).
“I am looking forward to this next chapter where I will continue to focus on economic justice, mentorship, and teaching ministers how to fight for social justice,” said Jackson, in a statement. “I will still be very involved in the organization and am proud that we have chosen Rev. Dr. Haynes as my successor.”
The coalition’s history dates to 1966, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appointed Jackson to direct the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, boycotting white businesses that did not employ Black Americans. In 1971, Jackson founded PUSH (which first stood for People United to Save Humanity and later, People United to Serve Humanity), according to the coalition’s website. In 1996, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition formed from the merger of PUSH with the National Rainbow Coalition, creating a civil rights organization with an aim for economic and educational equality.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at the coalition’s convention on Sunday as the transfer of power became official. She recalled Jackson’s early days of activism at a sit-in that sought to desegregate a local library in his South Carolina hometown, his work to gain freedom for American hostages overseas, and his role in his own presidential campaigns and those of Presidents Obama and Biden.
“So more than 60 years after that first sit-in at that library in Greenville, Rev has remained tireless in the fight to expand voting rights, to encourage innovation and partnerships across the continent of Africa, and to secure economic justice for all Americans,” she said in remarks at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, where she also expressed confidence in Haynes’ leadership.
Haynes, the pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas for four decades, has often been a speaker at coalition events. He is expected to retain his pastoral role as he leads the organization.
The megachurch pastor and Jackson appeared together at a 2021 protest at the U.S. Capitol that sought a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, immigration reform and voting rights. They both signed on to a February letter from faith leaders to President Biden seeking an executive order to create a commission to study reparations for African Americans.
“As a student of Rev. Jackson’s, I am honored to be selected for this prestigious and important position,” Haynes said in a statement. “Our communities need organizations like Rainbow PUSH to not only continue the fight for justice and equality, but to shepherd the next generation of advocates into the movement.”
Faith and political leaders expressed gratitude for Jackson’s leadership in response to the announcement that he was ending his time as coalition president.
Biden called him “a man of God and of the people; determined, strategic, and unafraid of the work to redeem the soul of our nation.” Former President Clinton, in a tweet, said, “Rev. Jesse Jackson never faltered in the fight for justice, equality, and peace, always keeping hope alive.”
The Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister in Oregon, recalled welcoming Jackson to Portland 35 years ago when he supported Jackson’s second presidential campaign.
“Without Jesse Jackson, there likely would have been no Barack Obama,” he said in an Instagram post describing Jackson’s trailblazing campaigns. “As a presidential candidate and President of Rainbow PUSH, Rev. Jackson helped set the nation’s moral tone.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who served as youth director of Operation Breadbasket as a teen, spoke of Jackson’s influence on other leaders and national organizations. In a statement, the National Action Network president called his mentor’s decision “the pivoting of one of the most productive, prophetic, and dominant figures in the struggle for social justice in American history.”