The recent Wall Street Project conference in New York City was old home week for many of us who were involved with Jesse Jackson’s first presidential campaign in 1984. There was Frank Watkins, the former candidate’s longtime press secretary and the driving force behind Jackson’s decision to run. Also present were Emma Chappell, the campaign’s national treasurer; Rev. Herb Daughtry, senior pastor of The House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn and an early supporter; economist Julianne Malveaux, who worked in Jackson’s presidential campaigns and four key parts of the 1984 rainbow—Jim Zogby, Butch Wing, Steve Cobble and Robert Borosage. Former Louisiana Congressman Cleo Fields shared memories as did former New York City Mayor David Dinkins.
I was asked to moderate a discussion about the impact of the 1984 campaign on the nation and, yes, an African American now sitting in the White House. I covered Jackson’s first presidential run while working for the Chicago Tribune. I knew most of the major players, but it wasn’t until we sat down as a group with Jesse Jackson that we had collectively reflected on the historic events of three decades ago.
Cleo Fields recounted what the campaign meant to him in deeply personal terms.