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Mon, 10.28.2024

Operation Breadbasket is Formed

*On this date in 1962, Operation Breadbasket is celebrated.  This civil rights organization was dedicated to improving Black communities' economic conditions across the United States.  

Operation Breadbasket was founded as a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) department. Rev. Fred C. Bennette operated it, and the first activities were in Atlanta and other Southern cities.  

A key figure in the later history of Operation Breadbasket was Jesse Jackson. In 1964, Jackson left his native South Carolina to study at the Chicago Theological Seminary. He participated in SCLC's movement in Selma. When Jackson returned from Selma, he joined SCLC's effort to establish a beachhead in Chicago.  In 1966, the SCLC selected Jackson to be head of the Chicago chapter of its Operation Breadbasket. Influenced by the example of Rev. Leon H. Sullivan in Philadelphia, a key goal of the organization was to foster "selective buying" (boycotts) to pressure white businesses to hire Blacks and purchase goods and services from Black contractors. Sullivan's plan was not without its predecessors.

One was Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a wealthy doctor, a community leader on the South Side, and a key financial contributor to Operation Breadbasket. Before he moved from Mississippi to Chicago, Howard had developed a national reputation as a civil rights leader, surgeon, and entrepreneur.  As head of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, Howard had successfully organized a boycott of service stations that refused to provide restrooms for Blacks. However, Jackson's application of these methods had a seedier phase, including cronyism and strong-arming businesses to donate money to Operation Breadbasket.  

Noah Robinson, Jr., who had just graduated from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce of the University of Pennsylvania, came to Chicago in 1969 to become full-time director of the Commercial Division of Operation Breadbasket. Robinson was Jesse Jackson's half-brother and sometimes rival. Robinson would later be sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a rival known as Leroy Barber. 

 In December 1971, Jackson fell out with Ralph Abernathy, King's successor, as head of the SCLC. Jackson and his allies broke off SCLC and formed the wholly independent Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity). The founding goals were similar to those of Operation Breadbasket. Despite Jackson's departure, Operation Breadbasket continued briefly under Robinson's leadership.  This date was chosen because of the Thanksgiving season.

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