Jesse Jackson and Rural America: Together We All Win

As Democrats gather in convention at Atlanta, among them will be rural delegates drawn into the party processes for the first time by Jesse Jackson’s populist message. Jackson’s proven commitment to economic justice has won the hearts and minds of thousands of rural people, motivating many who had never before been active to vote and attend caucuses. 

Reverent Jackson carried Vermont, the nation’ most rural state. In Kansas, Jackson supporters took Sheridan, Gove, and Graham Counties. In Iowa, rural Adair County. IN Wisconsin, Polk County, and more than twenty counties in Alabama – scores more across the South. 

Rural people voted for Jesse Jackson because he put rural America on the national agenda, sending a clear message by opening his first state office in Greenfield, Iowa, surrounded by farmers and townspeople. Rural people voted for him because they know he cares. He stayed in their homes, stood on their farms, and learned about the current crisis first hand. Jackson appreciates the land as a source of life and knows the importance of the farm economy to our nation’s economic security. He understands the urgency of a crisis which has driven over 600,000 farmers off their farms since 1980. He reminds all Americans that if you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.

At the 20th Anniversary March on Washington in 1983, he met with a farm delegation led by Merle Hansen of the North American Farm Alliance to bond his relationship to family farmers.

Reverend Jackson has consistently stood with farmers int heir struggle to stay on the land. He knows that farmers cannot win alone, that it will take a mighty coalition to reverse our nation’s priorities on behalf of the nation’s working people.

Since that time, he has traveled across the country to help save farms at sheriff sales or speak at rallies and draw attention to the crisis in the countryside.

Jackson’s commitment to rural families is more than just rhetoric. Ask Darrell Ringer and the Bates family in Great Bend, Kansas; ask Jim Langmann in Western Minnesota; Perry Wilson, Sr. and Marvin Porter in Western Missouri; Dorthy and Verne Lau in Nebraska. Reverend Jackson was there. When he was called to help Iverline Payne, a 62 year old widow in Dublin, Georgia, he was there. When Chillocothe, Missouri farmers fighting the abusive tactics of the Farmers Home Administration called, he was there. When invited to farm rallies in Omaha, Nebraska or South and North Carolina, Reverent Jackson spoke of the need to join together, displaces worker and farmer, urban poor and peace activist, and so to build a coalition for jobs, farms, and justice.

When Carlos Welty and other midwest farmers needed assistance in developing urban markets, Jackson was there, offering access in Chicago. When cucumber farmers in Alabama needed help in developing a cooperatively owned pickle processing plant, he was there to help secure the needed purchase commitments.

As testimony to his work, over 400 farmers traveled to Washington, D. C. to attending the Founding Convention of the National Rainbow Coalition. At a “Save the Family Farm” Breakfast, he brought Congressional, Labor, and Farm leaders together with an overflow crowd to talk about the need to work together on our common agenda of economic justice and peace. 

Jackson was there when farmers needed political clout. Reverend Jackson brought a group of Chillicothe farmers to visit with Secretary of Agriculture Lyng, where they presented the Secretary with petitions to Save the Family Farm. Secretary Lyng agreed to respond when Reverend Jackson presented him with cases where USDA violates it’s own policies. The Secretary agreed to visit North Carolina and investigate the situation faced by black farmers, who are threatened with total obliteration by the end of the decade.

Jackson went to Wilmington, North Carolina when red tide fungus threatened to destroy the livelihood of fishermen. Jackson relayed to the Small Business Administration the importance of the fishermen’s work to the whole community. He convinced the SBA to provide immediate relief, enabling the fishermen to survive the crisis.

In Wisconsin in 1988, Jackson drew attention to the irrationality of farm and food policies which simultaneously refrain from buying food products from farmers while cutting food distribution to hungry people. As a result of heightened attention to this issue, the Wisconsin state legislature authorized $2 ½ million to ensure proper federal food distribution.

In 1986, Reverend Jackson joined Willie Nelson and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower in Austin for the Farm Aid II Concert. A few months later, national farm leaders invited him to be one of 3 keynote speakers at the United Farmer and Rancher Congress in St. Louis, along with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Commissioner Hightower. While in St. Louis, Reverend Jackson also delivered a speech to the International Agriculture Summit entitled “World Trade Peace Begins with Justice for the Farmer.”

Now in 1988, Jim Hightower endorsed Reverend Jackson and said, “If he was standing for my principles, why was I not standing for him? Frankly it had not occurred to most populist leaders like me that our movement might become black-led, reaching out to whites, but there it is… He has put himself on the line for the work-a-day majority of this country. He has earned our respect for the strength and tone of his campaign, and he is strumming a cord that American’s want to hear. Today, I join Jesse Jackson on that line, because it is the right place to be.”

The doors that Jesse Jackson has opened for rural activists, the bridges across racial lines, and the hope that he has brought has created the momentum for a powerful movement in rural America. Reverend Jackson stands for integrity, for quality, for principle, for justice, and for peace, and the urban and the rural coalition united behind these principles continues to grow.

MORE INFORMATION 2017

Rev. Jesse Jackson, “A New Direction in Farm Policy,” https://familyfarmjustice.me/2022/08/11/jesse-jackson-a-new-direction-in-farm-policy/.

“1988 Presidential forum on Agriculture and Rural Life,” YouTube, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_u_3tvGyM&index=26&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767

See video of Jackson and other materials at The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa Women’s Achives, Carol Hodne Papers, http://collguides.lib.uiowa.edu/?IWA0488 .

“Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters records, 1987-1988,” from Jesse Jackson ’88 Iowa Campaign Headquarters (Greenfield, Iowa) 1987, in Des Moines Historical Library Manuscripts (MS2014.7 ).