“There are always more slaves than slave masters,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson roared in a speech in Selma, Ala., early in his 1984 presidential campaign. “We can win! We got master’s degrees in disappointment and Ph.D.s in how to overcome!”
The crowd’s ecstatic response to Mr. Jackson, a prominent civil rights activist who had never held elective office, underlined one of the strengths of his effort to be considered a credible challenger for the Democratic nomination and potentially the first black president of the United States.
Another strength was a team of professionals doing the groundwork of mobilizing voters, led by Mr. Jackson’s campaign manager, Arnold R. Pinkney, who died on Monday in Cleveland at 83.
Though his efforts fell short in votes, Mr. Pinkney was instrumental in rallying minorities, the poor and the disenfranchised to Mr. Jackson’s cause. Mr. Jackson, defying expectations, emerged from a crowded field to finish third in the race for the nomination behind former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and Senator Gary Hart.
In managing the Jackson campaign, Mr. Pinkney likened his goal to one political aides of an earlier generation had set in persuading voters to see Dwight D. Eisenhower as not only the victorious Army commander of World War II but also a potential president who could manage the government in peacetime.
“Somebody sold him as a politician,” Mr. Pinkney told The Los Angeles Times. “Our job is to make that transition for Jackson.”
Mr. Pinkney brought to the campaign a seasoned understanding of both political success and failure. In 1967 he worked to elect Carl Stokes the first black mayor of a large American city, Cleveland (a job Mr. Pinkney himself later sought twice). The next year he managed the successful campaign of Mr. Stokes’s brother, Louis, to become the first black member of Congress from Ohio. Mr. Pinkney helped run many campaigns of both black and white politicians, including President Jimmy Carter’s unsuccessful re-election bid in 1980.
It was hearing the speech of a white politician on the radio in 1948 when he was a teenager that sparked Mr. Pinkney’s devotion to politics, prompting him to discard his parents’ affection for Republicans in favor of Democrats.
In the speech, Hubert H. Humphrey, then the young mayor of Minneapolis and a rising star in national politics, was imploring delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to endorse equal rights for blacks. Mr. Humphrey — who went on to become a United States senator of Minnesota and Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice president — delivered the call with such vigor that Southern segregationists stalked out of the hall, and the party.
Twenty-four years later, Mr. Pinkney was Mr. Humphrey’s deputy campaign manager in a race to win the Democratic presidential nomination for the second time and unseat the man who had defeated Mr. Humphrey in 1968, Richard M. Nixon.
The relationship between Mr. Humphrey and Mr. Pinkney deepened as they traveled from primary to primary, and after Mr. Humphrey, then a senator again, lost the California primary, he publicly promised that if his campaign revived and he won the general election, he would bring Mr. Pinkney into his administration.
“It was the greatest moment of my life,” Mr. Pinkney told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland in 1997, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Humphrey went on to lose the nomination to Senator George S. McGovern.
Last week, Mr. Jackson said of Mr. Pinkney, “With his passing, a huge part of history goes with him.”
He was born in Youngstown, Ohio, on Jan. 6, 1931. His father died three months before he finished high school, so he worked in steel mills to help his family make ends meet.
He graduated from Albion College in Michigan, where he won letters in football, track, baseball and basketball. During a stint in the Army, he played baseball with major leaguers. Paul O’Dea, a scout for the Cleveland Indians, told him that he had a shot at making the big leagues by his late 20s, but advised him to go to law school instead. “Your race needs more lawyers than baseball players,” Mr. Pinkney recalled Mr. O’Dea saying.
He took the advice and attended what is now Case Western Reserve University School of Law, but he dropped out for financial reasons. He then became one of the first black agents hired by the Prudential Insurance Company of America and later opened a successful insurance agency. As a civil rights activist, he led a membership drive for the N.A.A.C.P. and joined the picketing of a Cleveland supermarket that had refused to hire blacks.
He began his political career by helping out on local campaigns for judges, then volunteered for Carl Stokes’s mayoral campaign. Louis Stokes tapped him to be his paid campaign manager in 1968. Mr. Pinkney was later president of the Cleveland Board of Education and twice sought the city’s mayoralty, losing in a three-man race in 1971 and again in 1975. After the second defeat, he moved to Shaker Heights, a Cleveland suburb.
Mr. Jackson said he had chosen Mr. Pinkney to run his 1984 campaign because he was experienced in national campaigns as a “voice of pragmatism.” When he took over, Mr. Pinkney set about righting a campaign that was listing: Field offices had not been set up, phones were not being answered, and Mr. Jackson was often showing up late for appearances.
He also had to contend with problems outside his control. The Jackson forces were buoyed when Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the black separatist Nation of Islam, announced his support. But then a recording surfaced in which Mr. Farrakhan made remarks widely interpreted as anti-Semitic. Amid a storm of outrage, Mr. Pinkney helped draft a statement calling Mr. Farrakhan’s words “reprehensible.”
Another challenge came when Mr. Jackson made diplomatic forays to Latin America, meeting with Nicaragua’s leftist leaders and leftist rebels in El Salvador to try to steer them toward peace and winning the release of more than 20 political prisoners in Cuba. Mr. Pinkney worried that with the race for the nomination nearing its end, Mr. Jackson was absent, squandering a chance to attract maximum attention on domestic issues at a crucial time. In his absence, The Washington Post said, Mr. Pinkney would “look after his interests.”
Mr. Jackson unsuccessfully sought the nomination again in 1988 with Gerald F. Austin as his campaign manager.
Mr. Pinkney’s death was announced by his family. His survivors include his wife, Betty, and their daughter, Traci.
Mr. Pinkney liked to say the changes in America that led to Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008 began with Carl Stokes’s victory in Cleveland four decades earlier. On the night of Mr. Obama’s victory, Mr. Pinkney told a crowd of celebrators that blacks could no longer justifiably refuse to fight in foreign wars for a country that treated them as second-class citizens.
“This wipes all that out,” he said. “No one can accuse the country of that again. It’s a magnificent night.”