Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984 with a lot of ideas and a little support, the second black candidate, after Shirley Chisholm in the 1970s, to organize a national campaign for the presidency. His presence in the race was a nuisance to Democrats at the time who worried that his policy proposals were too left-leaning. But the “Rainbow Coalition” he cobbled together—an assortment of minority groups, black and brown people, farmers and poor factory workers, the LGBTQ community and white progressives—compelled them to deal with his ideas.
“Merely by being black and forcing other candidates to consider his very real potential to garner black votes, which they need, Jackson has had an impact,” the journalist Ronald Smothers wrote in a New York Times profile at the time. An aide for Walter Mondale, the eventual Democratic nominee, went a step further, telling Smothers, “Jackson’s being in the race gets more information on things such as South Africa, affirmative action and black colleges into Mondale’s briefing books.”
But in both his 1984 and his 1988 campaigns, Jackson was also pushing for something more tangible, and sweeping, than affirmative action: He was calling for reparations. Advocates had tried, with varied success, to attract broad political support for the idea since slavery was abolished more than a century before, and Jackson wanted to return it to the fore of American politics by placing it front and center in a presidential race.