Al Sharpton biography
Ordained in the Pentecostal church, Al Sharpton is an outspoken and sometimes controversial political activist in the fight against racial prejudice and injustice. In 1971, he established the National Youth Movement. His many critics and supporters have watched him run for Senate, mayor of New York, and candidate for president. His dramatic style brings popular and media attention to his causes.
Social and political activist, religious leader Al Sharpton was born Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. on October 3, 1954, in Brooklyn, New York. Outspoken and sometimes controversial, Sharpton has become a leading figure in the fight against racial prejudice and injustice. He developed his commanding speaking style as a child. A frequent churchgoer, Sharpton became an ordained minister in the Pentecostal church at the age of 10. He often traveled to deliver sermons and once toured with Mahalia Jackson, a famous gospel singer.
In the late 1960s, Sharpton became active in the civil rights movement, joining the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The SCLC had a program called Operation Breadbasket, which sought to encourage diversity in the workplace by applying social and economic pressure on businesses. In 1969, Sharpton became the youth director for the program and participated in protests against the A&P supermarket chain in the early 1970s. He went on to establish his own organization, the National Youth Movement.
During the 1980s, Sharpton got involved in many high-profile cases in the New York City area that affected the African American community and led several protests against what he believed were injustices and incidents of racial discrimination. He helped keep media scrutiny on the racially based murder of a black teenager named Michael Griffith in 1986.
The following year, Sharpton became embroiled in the Tawana Brawley case—a case that would haunt him for years. Brawley, an African American teenager, claimed that she was raped by a group of white men—some of whom were allegedly police officers. The case was later dismissed by a grand jury, which reportedly concluded that the teenager had made up the story. But this came after months of media frenzy around the case, largely encouraged by Sharpton. He was even sued by the district attorney working the case for making slanderous remarks. Sharpton was found guilty and fined for his comments.
His reputation damaged, Sharpton faced more charges in 1990. He was tried and acquitted of stealing from the NYM. No matter what problems he encountered, he remained dedicated to his activism, arranging protests and giving press conferences. During one such protest in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood in 1991, a man stabbed Sharpton in the chest. Rushed to the hospital, he had surgery to repair the damage and made a full recovery.
Running for Public Office
Sharpton tried again to win public office in the 1990s. He had made one unsuccessful run for for the New York State Assembly in 1978. But this time, Sharpton had his sights on the national political arena, trying for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1992 and in 1994. He also ran for mayor of New York in 1997. In 2004, Sharpton attracted national attention by throwing his hat into the ring to become the Democratic Party's presidential candidate.
He, however, failed to garner enough support to become a contender for the nomination.
Activism Amid Criticism
To this day, Sharpton remains a political and social activist, with many supporters and critics. He is known for his deft handling of the media, leading some to call him the master of the sound bite. Others are concerned that his flare for the dramatic overshadows the causes he represents or he uses the causes he champions to further his own agenda. Sharpton seems to be pay no heed to his critics and continues to throw his talents behind important causes, cases, and events in the African American community, including rebuilding of New Orleans after the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In June 2009, the Reverend Al Sharpton led a memorial for Michael Jackson at Harlem's Apollo Theater. A lifelong friend of the Jackson family, Sharpton said Michael Jackson was a "trailblazer" and a "historic figure" who loved the Apollo Theater.
More recently, Sharpton became involved in the Trayvon Martin case. He held rallies in Florida to fight for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. Martin, an unarmed African-American teen, was shot to death in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman, a member of a neighborhood watch group, in February 2012. Zimmerman has claimed self-defense, but others feel that Martin was a victim of racial profiling. Initially the local police did not file any charges against Zimmerman.
Some have worried that Sharpton's presence in Florida would turn already tense race relations into riots. But Sharpton has called for a peaceful approach to resolving this case. "We are not in the business of revenge. We are in the business of justice," he told the press.
Sharpton has two daughters, Dominique and Ashley, from his marriage to Kathy Jordan.