Alfred Charles “Al” Sharpton, Jr. (born October 3, 1954) is an American Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and radio talk showhost. In 2004, he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential election. He hosts his own radio talk show,Keepin’ It Real, and he makes regular guest appearances on Fox News (such as The O’Reilly Factor) CNN, and MSNBC.
Sharpton’s supporters praise “his ability and willingness to defy the power structure that is seen as the cause of their suffering” and consider him “a man who is willing to tell it like it is”. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a one-time foe, said that Sharpton deserves the respect he enjoys among African-Americans: “He is willing to go to jail for them, and he is there when they need him.”
His critics describe him as “a political radical who is to blame, in part, for the deterioration of race relations”. Sociologist Orlando Patterson has referred to him as a racial arsonist, while liberal columnist Derrick Z. Jackson has called him the black equivalent ofRichard Nixon and Pat Robertson. Sharpton sees much of the criticism as a sign of his effectiveness. “In many ways, what they consider criticism is complimenting my job,” he said. “An activist’s job is to make public civil rights issues until there can be a climate for change.”
|“||What I do functionally is what Dr. King, Reverend Jackson and the movement are all about; but I learned manhood from James Brown. I always say that James Brown taught me how to be a man.||”|
|—Sharpton on Brown as a father figure., |
Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Alfred Charles Sharpton, Sr. and Ada Sharpton. He preached his first sermon at the age of four and toured with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
In 1963, Sharpton’s father left his wife to have a relationship with Sharpton’s half-sister. Ada Sharpton took a job as a maid, but her income was so low that the family qualified for welfare and had to move from middle class Hollis, Queens, to the public housing projects in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Sharpton graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, and attended Brooklyn College, dropping out after two years in 1975. He became a tour manager for James Brown in 1971, where he met his future wife, Kathy Jordan, who was a backup singer. Sharpton and Jordan married in 1980. The couple separated in 2004.
Sharpton was licensed and ordained a Pentecostal minister by Bishop F.D. Washington at the age of nine or ten. After Bishop Washington’s death in the late 1980s, Sharpton became a Baptist. He was re-baptized as a member of the Bethany Baptist Church in 1994 by the Reverend William Jones and became a Baptist minister.
On January 12, 1991, Sharpton escaped serious injury when he was stabbed in the chest by Michael Riccardi while Sharpton was preparing to lead a protest through Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York. The intoxicated attacker was apprehended by Sharpton’s aides and handed over to police who were present for the planned protest. Sharpton, although forgiving his attacker and pleading for leniency on his behalf, filed suit against New York City alleging that the many police present had failed to protect him from his attacker. In December 2003 he finally reached a $200,000 settlement with the city just as jury selection was about to start.
Indirect familial relation to Strom Thurmond
In February 2007, genealogists using the website Ancestry.com discovered that Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond‘s great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed during the Civil War.
Thurmond was notable as the longest serving Senator (at the time of his death) who was a major advocate of racial segregation during the middle of the twentieth century. Thurmond’s illegitimate daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, stated she would welcome Sharpton to the family if a DNA test shows he is a relative. In an interview, Sharpton said he has no plans for the DNA test to see if he is related.
The Sharpton family name originated with Coleman Sharpton’s previous slave-owner, who was named Alexander Sharpton.
Speaking at the Michael Jackson memorial service on July 7, 2009, Sharpton received a standing ovation for a rousing eulogy, which included telling Jackson’s children from the stage, “Wasn’t nothing strange about your Daddy. It was strange what your Daddy had to deal with. But he dealt with it anyway.”
Bernhard Goetz shot four African-American men on a New York subway train on December 22, 1984, when they approached him and allegedly tried to rob him. At his trial Goetz was cleared of all charges except criminal possession of a weapon. Sharpton led several marches protesting what he saw as the weak prosecution of the case.
Sharpton and other civil rights leaders said Goetz’s actions were racist and requested a federal civil rights investigation. A federal investigation concluded the shooting was due to an attempted robbery and not race.
On December 20, 1986, three African-American men were assaulted in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens by a mob of white men. The three men were chased by their attackers onto the Belt Parkway, where one of them, Michael Griffith, was struck and killed by a passing motorist.
A week later, on December 27, Sharpton led 1,200 demonstrators on a march through the streets of Howard Beach. Residents of the neighborhood, who were overwhelmingly white, screamed racial epithets at the protesters, who were largely black. Sharpton’s role in the case, which led to the appointment of a special prosecutor by New York Governor Mario Cuomo after the two surviving victims refused to co-operate with the Queens district attorney, helped propel him to national prominence.
On August 23, 1989, four African-American teenagers were beaten by a group of 10 to 30 white youths in Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighborhood. One Bensonhurst resident, armed with a handgun, shot and killed sixteen-year-old Yusef Hawkins.
In the weeks following the assault and murder, Sharpton led several marches through Bensonhurst. The first protest, just days after the incident, was greeted by neighborhood residents shouting “Niggers go home” and holding watermelons to mock the demonstrators.
In May 1990, when one of the two leaders of the mob was acquitted of the most serious charges brought against him, Sharpton led another protest through Bensonhurst. In January 1991, when other members of the gang were given light sentences, Sharpton planned another march for January 12, 1991. Before that demonstration began, neighborhood resident Michael Riccardi tried to kill Sharpton by stabbing him in the chest. Sharpton recovered from his wounds, and later asked the judge for leniency when Riccardi was sentenced.
National Action Network
Crown Heights Riot
The Crown Heights riot began on August 19, 1991, after a car driven by a Jewish man, and part of a procession led by an unmarked police car, went through an intersection and was struck by another vehicle causing it to veer onto the sidewalk where it accidentally struck and killed a seven-year-old Guyanese boy named Gavin Cato and severely injured his cousin Angela. Witnesses could not agree upon the speed and could not agree whether the light was yellow or red. One of the factors that sparked the riot was the arrival of a private ambulance which, on the orders of a police officer worried for the Jewish driver’s safety, removed the uninjured driver from the scene while Cato lay pinned under his car. Cato and his cousin were treated soon after by a city ambulance. Caribbean-American and African-American residents of the neighborhood rioted for four consecutive days fueled by rumors that the private ambulance had refused to treat Cato. During the riot blacks looted stores, beat Jews in the street, and clashed with groups of Jews, hurling rocks and bottles at one another after Yankel Rosenbaum, a visiting student from Australia, was stabbed and killed by a member of a mob shouting “Kill the Jew.” Sharpton marched through Crown Heights and in front of “770”, shortly after the riot, with about 400 protesters (who chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “No justice, no peace!”), in spite of Mayor David Dinkins‘s attempts to keep the march from happening.
Freddie’s Fashion Mart
In 1995, a black Pentecostal Church, the United House of Prayer, which owned a retail property on 125th Street, asked Fred Harari, a Jewish tenant who operated Freddie’s Fashion Mart, to evict his longtime subtenant, a black-owned record store called The Record Shack. Sharpton led a protest in Harlem against the planned eviction of The Record Shack.Sharpton told the protesters, “We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business.”
On December 8, 1995, Roland J. Smith Jr., one of the protesters, entered Harari’s store with a gun and flammable liquid, shot several customers and set the store on fire. The gunman fatally shot himself, and seven store employees died of smoke inhalation. Fire Department officials discovered that the store’s sprinkler had been shut down, in violation of the local fire code. Sharpton claimed that the perpetrator was an open critic of himself and his nonviolent tactics. Sharpton later expressed regret for making the racial remark, “white interloper,” and denied responsibility for inflaming or provoking the violence.
In 1999, Sharpton led a protest to raise awareness about the death of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea who was shot to death by NYPD officers. Sharpton claimed that Diallo’s death was the result of police brutality and racial profiling. Diallo’s family was later awarded $3 million in a wrongful death suit filed against the city
In 2001, Sharpton was jailed for 90 days for protesting against U.S. military target practice exercises in Puerto Rico near a United States Navy bombing site. Sharpton, held in a Puerto Rican lockup for two days and then imprisoned at Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn on May 25, 2001, has the Federal Bureau of Prisons ID# 21458-069. He was released on August 17, 2001.
In 2002, Sharpton was involved in protests following the death of West African immigrant Ousmane Zongo. Zongo, who was unarmed, was shot by an undercover police officer during a raid on a warehouse in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Sharpton met with the family and also provided some legal services.
On November 25, 2006, Sean Bell was shot and killed in the Jamaica section of Queens in New York City by plainclothes detectives from the New York Police Department in a hail of 50 bullets. The incident sparked fierce criticism of the police from the public and drew comparisons to the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo. Three of the five detectives involved in the shooting went to trial in 2008 on charges ranging from manslaughter to reckless endangerment but were found not guilty.
On May 7, 2008, in response to the acquittals of the officers, Sharpton co-ordinated peaceful protests at major transportation centers in New York City, including the Brooklyn Bridge, theQueensboro Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. Sharpton and about 200 others were arrested.
On March 11, 2007, Sharpton held a press conference to highlight what he said was unequal treatment of four suspected rapists in a high-profile crime in the Dunbar Village Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida. The suspects, who were young black men, were arrested for allegedly raping and beating a black Haitian woman at gunpoint. The crime also involved forcing the woman to perform oral sex on her 12-year-old son.
At his press conference Sharpton said that any violent act toward a woman is inexcusable but he felt that the accused youths were being treated unfairly because they were black. Sharpton contrasted the treatment of the suspects, who remain in jail, with white suspects involved in a gang rape who were released after posting bond.
Reclaim the Dream commemorative march
On August 28, 2010, Sharpton and other civil rights leaders led a march to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. After gathering at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., thousands of people marched five miles to the National Mall.
2008 presidential race
In September 2007, when he was asked whether he thought it was important for America to have a black president, Sharpton said, “It would be a great moment as long as the black candidate was supporting the interest that would inevitably help our people. A lot of my friends went with Clarence Thomas and regret it to this day. I don’t assume that just because somebody’s my color, they’re my kind. But I’m warming up to Obama, but I’m not there yet.”
Sharpton is a supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians, including same-sex marriage. During his presidential campaign in 2003, Sharpton said he thought it was insulting to be asked to discuss the issue of gay marriage. “It’s like asking do I support black marriage or white marriage…. The inference of the question is that gays are not like other human beings.”
Comments on Jews
During the Crown Heights Riot, Sharpton (who arranged a rally in Crown Heights after Cato’s death) has been seen by some commentators as inflaming tensions by making remarks that included “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” and referring to Jews as “diamond merchants.”
Sharpton was quoted as saying to an audience at Kean College in 1994 that, “White folks was [sic] in caves while we was building empires…. We taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.” Sharpton defended his comments by noting that the term “homo” was not homophobic but added that he no longer uses the term. Sharpton has since called for an end to homophobia in the African-American community.
- “As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation.”
In response, a representative for Romney told reporters that “bigotry toward anyone because of their beliefs is unacceptable.” The Catholic League compared Sharpton to Don Imus, and said that his remarks “should finish his career”.
On May 9, during an interview on Paula Zahn NOW, Sharpton said that his views on Mormonism were based on the Mormon Church’s traditionally racist views regarding blacks and its interpretation of the so-called “Curse of Ham“. On May 10, Sharpton called two apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and apologized to them for his remarks and asked to meet with them. A spokesman for the Church confirmed that Sharpton had called and said that “we appreciate it very much, Rev. Sharpton’s call, and we consider the matter closed.” He also apologized to “any member of the Mormon church” who was offended by his comments. Later that month, Sharpton went to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he met with Elder M. Russell Ballard, a leader of the Church, and Elder Robert C. Oaks of the Church’s Presidency of the Seventy.
Tawana Brawley controversy
On November 28, 1987, Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old African American girl, was found smeared with feces, lying in a garbage bag, her clothing torn and burned and with various slurs and epithets written on her body in charcoal. Brawley claimed she had been assaulted andraped by six white men, some of them police officers, in the town of Wappinger, New York.
Attorneys Alton H. Maddox and C. Vernon Mason joined Sharpton in support of Brawley. A grand jury was convened; after seven months of examining police and medical records, the jury determined that Brawley had fabricated her story. Sharpton, Maddox, and Mason accused theDutchess County prosecutor, Steven Pagones, of racism and of being one of the perpetrators of the alleged abduction and rape. The three were successfully sued for slander and ordered to pay $345,000 in damages, the jury finding Sharpton liable for making seven defamatory statements about Pagones, Maddox for two, and Mason for one. Sharpton refused to pay his share of the damages; it was later paid by a number of black business leaders.
In 2007 Sharpton said he would have accepted the case the same as he does today. The only difference would be he would not have made it so personal with Pagones, but he still felt Brawley had a good case to go to trial. “I disagreed with the grand jury on Brawley,” said Sharpton in an interview. “I believed there was enough evidence to go to trial. Grand jury said there wasn’t. Okay, fine. Do I have a right to disagree with the grand jury? Many Americans believe O.J. Simpson was guilty. A jury said he wasn’t. So I have as much right to question a jury as they do. Does it make somebody a racist? No! They just disagreed with the jury. So did I.” 
Sharpton has run unsuccessfully for elected office on multiple occasions. Of his unsuccessful runs, he said that winning office may not have been his goal. “Much of the media criticism of me assumes their goals and they impose them on me,” said Sharpton in an interview. “Well, those might not be my goals. So they will say, ‘Well, Sharpton has not won a political office.’ But that might not be my goal! Maybe I ran for political office to change the debate, or to raise the social justice question.” Sharpton ran for a United States Senate seat fromNew York in 1988, 1992, and 1994. In 1997, he ran for Mayor of New York City.
On March 15, 2004, Sharpton announced his endorsement of leading Democratic candidate John Kerry.
On December 15, 2005, Sharpton agreed to repay $100,000 in public funds he received from the federal government for his 2004 Presidential campaign. The repayment was required because Sharpton had exceeded federal limits on personal expenditures for his campaign. At that time his most recent Federal Election Commission filings (from January 1, 2005) stated that Sharpton’s campaign still had debts of $479,050 and owed Sharpton himself $145,146 for an item listed as “Fundraising Letter Preparation — Kinko’s.”
In 2009 the Federal Election Commission announced it had levied a fine of $285,000 against Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign for breaking campaign finance rules during his presidential campaign.
On April 2, 2007, Sharpton announced that he would not enter the 2008 presidential race. “I am not going to run,” he said.
Sharpton has made cameo appearances in the movies Cold Feet, Bamboozled, Mr. Deeds, and Malcolm X. He also has appeared in episodes of the television shows New York Undercover, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Girlfriends, My Wife and Kids, Rescue Me and Boston Legal. He hosted the original Spike TV reality television show I Hate My Job, and an episode of Saturday Night Live. He was a guest on Weekends at the DL on Comedy Central and has been featured in television ads for the Fernando Ferrer campaign for the New York City mayoral election, 2005. He also made a cameo appearance by telephone on the Food Network series, The Secret Life Of . . ., when host Jim O’Connor expressed disbelief that a restaurant owner who’d named a dish after Sharpton actually knew him.
In June 2005, Sharpton signed a contract with Matrix Media to produce and host a live two-hour daily talk program, which did not air. In November 2005, Sharpton signed with Radio Oneto host a daily national talk radio program which began airing on January 30, 2006 entitled Keepin It Real with Al Sharpton.
On May 9, 2008, the Associated Press reported that Sharpton and his businesses owed almost $1.5 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. Sharpton owed $931,000 in federal income tax and $366,000 to New York, and his for-profit company, Rev. Al Communications, owed another $176,000 to the state.
On June 19, 2008, the New York Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service had sent subpoenas to several corporations that had donated to Sharpton’s National Action Network. In 2007 New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began investigating the National Action Network, because it failed to make proper financial reports, as required for non-profits.According to the Post, several major corporations, including Anheuser-Busch and Colgate-Palmolive, have donated thousands of dollars to the National Action Network. The Postasserted that the donations were made to prevent boycotts or rallies by the National Action Network.
Sharpton countered the investigative actions with a charge that they reflected a political agenda by United States agencies.