Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock

Ashley Jackson was born to Jesse Jackson’s staff assistant, Karin Stanford. Financial records show that Jesse Jackson had paid Stanford substantial amounts of money from his nonprofit Rainbow/PUSH Coalition prior to his admitting publicly in January, 2001, that he was Ashley’s father. This news was particularly significant as Jesse Jackson had been a spiritual adviser to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Summary of Event

Jesse Jackson has been an important figure in the American Civil Rights movement and in American politics since the late 1960’s. He was born in 1941 in segregated Greenville, South Carolina, to a seventeen-year-old single mother. His father was at the time married to another woman and had almost no involvement in his life. He was later adopted by his stepfather, Charles Henry Jackson, who adopted the young Jackson, and Jackson adopted his surname. Jackson, Jesse
National Enquirer
[g]United States;May, 1999: Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock[02940]
[c]Families and children;May, 1999: Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock[02940]
[c]Politics;May, 1999: Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock[02940]
[c]Sex;May, 1999: Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock[02940]
[c]Public morals;May, 1999: Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock[02940]
[c]Ethics;May, 1999: Civil Rights Leader Jesse Jackson Fathers a Child Out of Wedlock[02940]
Stanford, Karin
Jackson, Ashley

On January 18, 2001, Jackson, who at the time was fifty-nine years old, issued a statement in anticipation of a story by the tabloid the National Enquirer that he had fathered a child out of wedlock with Karin Stanford, who was twenty years younger. Their child, Ashley Jackson, was born in May, 1999.

Jackson had been a successful athlete and student at a segregated high school and received a football scholarship to the University of Illinois. He left Illinois after one year and transferred to North Carolina A&T. While completing his undergraduate degree, he married Jacqueline Lavinia Davis, and they had five children.

Jackson attended seminary from 1964 to 1966 but left before completing a degree to pursue civil rights activism. He led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) project in Chicago known as Operation Breadbasket in 1966-1967. He was with Martin Luther King, Martin Luther, Jr. King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, when King was assassinated. He remained with SCLC until 1971, at which time he formed Operation PUSH Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). King ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988. He also founded, in 1984, the National Rainbow Coalition, which merged with Operation PUSH in 1996. He has also been engaged in diplomatic efforts.

During Clinton, Bill
[p]Clinton, Bill;and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] Bill Clinton’s presidency, Jackson served as a political adviser and as a special envoy to Africa for the promotion of democracy. In 1998, when it was revealed that President Clinton had an inappropriate sexual relationship with former White House intern Clinton, Bill
[p]Clinton, Bill;and Monica Lewinsky[Lewinsky]
Lewinsky, Monica
[p]Lewinsky, Monica;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] Monica Lewinsky, Jackson became publicly identified as a moral and spiritual adviser to Clinton.

Mainstream news organizations had heard rumors about Jackson having had an illegitimate child but either did not pursue the story or did not pursue the story with the intensity of the National Enquirer. Patricia Shipp of the National Enquirer defended the story, in a television interview on CNN, stating that “it’s a legitimate news story, not only because he’s head of Rainbow” Coalition but also because of “the woman [sic] of his child [who] worked under him.” Moreover, Shipp said that Jackson “was at one time the spiritual adviser to the president of the United States.” The National Enquirer, which also claimed that the story was not given to them by political opponents of Jackson, published a photograph of Jackson with Stanford, appearing with President Clinton on December 3, 1998—which was approximately five months before the child was born.

In his public statement, Jackson said that “this is no time for evasions, denials or alibis.” He continued,

I fully accept responsibility, and I am truly sorry for my actions. As her mother does, I love this child very much and have assumed responsibility for her emotional and financial support since she was born. I was born of these circumstances, and I know the importance of growing up in a nurturing, supportive and protected environment, so I am determined to give my daughter and her mother the privacy they both deserve.

Jackson also said that he would be “taking some time off to revive my spirit and reconnect with my family.” At the time, a spokesperson for Jackson said that the reverend would keep immediate commitments but would scale back on his activities.

The New York Times
New York Times;and Jesse Jackson[Jackson] reported on January 20, 2001, that Jackson had been paying Stanford three thousand dollars per month to support Ashley and that Stanford had been given about thirty-five thousand dollars to help with expenses in moving from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. The news story said the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition had called the funds a “severance package.” The National Enquirer first reported that the money had been paid through accounts of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and that this information had been confirmed by staff members of Rainbow/PUSH. A Washington Post report on February 1, 2001, told of a source that said Jackson’s Citizenship Education Fund Citizenship Education Fund approved a “draw” of forty thousand dollars against future consulting fees and also indicated that the money would be used to help purchase real estate. On February 2, 2001, a copy of the source’s statement (in letter form) appeared in the National Enquirer.

Jackson had first met Stanford when she was an assistant professor of political science and African American studies at the University of Georgia. Jackson offered Stanford the job as the director of the Washington bureau of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Stanford, who had degrees from California State University, Chico, the University of Southern California, and Howard University, published a book on Jackson’s foreign policy impact, Beyond the Boundaries: Reverend Jesse Jackson and International Affairs (1997), which won the National Conference of Black Political Scientists’ Outstanding Book Award in 1998.

Stanford gave no interviews in January, 2001, but she did have a lengthy interview with Connie Chung, which was televised on ABC’s 20/20 in August. In the interview, Stanford stated that her relationship with Jackson had become strained in the last year and that the frequency of his visits to see his child had decreased. In the first year of Ashley’s life, Stanford said that Jackson saw Ashley frequently, but he only saw her once in the first seven months of 2001.

Stanford also confirmed that Jackson had been paying her several thousand dollars per month in child support and that she had taken Jackson to court to formalize the agreement. Stanford also stated in the interview that she did not immediately inform him that he was the father of her child, but after she did inform him, he decided not to run for U.S. president in 2000.

Stanford also stated that lawyers representing Jackson had asked her to sign a confidentiality agreement, but she did not sign the agreement. Stanford added that she did not regret having Ashley, even though her birth caused pain for others. The story faded from public attention after 2001.


Jackson’s credibility as a political figure was undermined in the short term. Even if he had not fathered a child with Stanford, it is likely he would not have run for the presidency of the United States. He had limited visibility in 2001, but soon regained public prominence. Jackson spoke in London in 2003 to nearly one million people at an antiwar rally. He also continued to join protests and make public appearances at racially charged events.

Stanford worked with the Los Angeles bureau of Rainbow/PUSH, then as a consultant for a supermarket chain with stores located mostly in city neighborhoods. She returned to college teaching and also wrote the book Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors (2005). Jackson, Jesse
National Enquirer

Further Reading

  • Bruns, Roger. Jesse Jackson: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. A balanced and short biography of Jackson that also provides an excellent description of the Civil Rights movement. Written especially for high school students.
  • Frady, Marshall. Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson. 1996. New ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. A balanced biography of Jackson that shows his penchant for egomania and discusses his moral leadership abilities.
  • Stanford, Karin. Breaking the Silence: Inspirational Stories of Black Cancer Survivors. Chicago: Hilton, 2005. Stanford explores the words of African Americans who have lived through cancer. Stanford is a breast cancer survivor.
  • Timmerman, Kenneth R. Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2004. A critical biography of Jackson that seeks to show that he has not measured up to his own ideals.

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