•Founder of the National Action Network
•Helped incite anti-Jewish riots in Crown Heights, New York in 1991
•Convicted of libel for his role in the racially charged Tawana Brawley hoax
•Incited black anti-Semites against a Jewish business establishment in Harlem in 1995
•Democratic Party presidential candidate, 2004
See also: National Action Network Jesse Jackson
Alfred Charles Sharpton was born in Brooklyn, New York in October 1954, to comparatively prosperous parents. He demonstrated considerable verbal dexterity at an early age and is reputed to have begun preaching when he was four years old. He was touted as “the wonder-boy preacher” by age 7, when he toured with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and Pentecostal minister F.D. Washington. Washington personally ordained Sharpton, who idolized Adam Clayton Powell, as a Pentecostal minister when the boy was 10.
That same year, Sharpton’s parents divorced, leaving the youngster and his mother impoverished and reliant on welfare. In the late 1960s, Sharpton joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1969 he was appointed as youth director of SCLC's "Operation Breadbasket," an initiative headed by Jesse Jackson which boycotted businesses accused of failing to hire enough black employees. Jackson, moreover, became a mentor to Sharpton.
Supporting a Communist Front and Angela Davis
In the February 9, 1971 edition of the Communist Party USA newspaper Daily World, CPUSA member Stephanie Allan wrote about a pair of recent rallies (in Chicago and in White Plains, New York) which had been held to support a CPUSA front called The Committee to Free Angela Davis. At the time, Davis was in prison for her role in abetting the murder of a California judge. Eliseo Medina was one of the speakers at the Chicago event, while Sharpton addressed the New York rally. According to Stephanie Allan, Sharpton and fellow speaker J.L. Scott “exposed the connection between [the] A&P [Corporation], U.S. monopoly capitalism, racism and imperialism, and related these to the Angela Davis case and the threat to the vital rights of the Black people.”
Also in 1971, Sharpton established the National Youth Movement, an organization that sought to organize young African Americans to push for increased voter registration, cultural awareness, and job-training programs. He would lead the group for the next 17 years.
After attending Brooklyn College for two years, Sharpton dropped out and had no additional higher education or formal seminary training. He soon began working (as a tour manager) for the entertainer James Brown and, later, for boxing promoter Don King. In 1978, Sharpton made an unsuccessful run for the New York State Senate.
A 2002 telecast of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel showed a 1983 FBI surveillance video in which Sharpton could be seen discussing a money-laundering scheme with mobster-turned-informant Michael Franzese, onetime captain for the Colombo crime family. On the tape, Sharpton appeared to offer to broker a meeting between Don King and a South American drug lord. No indictments were filed.
The Tawana Brawley Racial Hoax
Sharpton first entered America's national consciousness on a large scale in November 1987, when he injected himself into the case of a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley, who claimed that she had been abducted and raped by a gang of six whites in Dutchess County, New York. Despite a complete absence of any credible evidence to support Miss Brawley's story, Sharpton (along with attorneys Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason) made increasingly wild allegations, culminating in charges that then-Dutchess County assistant prosecutor Steven Pagones had participated in the girl's brutalization. When Sharpton was criticized for accusing Pagones without offering a shred of proof, he retorted: "We stated openly that Steven Pagones did it. If we're lying, sue us, so we can go into court with you and prove you did it. Sue us -- sue us right now."
In a speech he delivered when the Brawley case was dominating news headlines, Sharpton derided his white critics as racists: "They looked up and they saw Maddox, Mason, and Sharpton. What's wrong with them? What was wrong with us was [that] crackers didn't choose us!"
While the Brawley case dominated U.S. news headlines, Sharpton appeared on the late Morton Downey's television program and publicly used an anti-gay slur. The incident occurred when Sharpton got into a shouting match with an audience member and yelled, while gesturing to that individual to come up to the stage and fight: “You ain’t nothing! You a punk faggot! Now come on and do something!”
An extensive and costly investigation eventually proved Brawley’s tale to be without factual basis, and a grand jury dismissed her accusations. When Pagones in 1997 sued Sharpton (as well as Maddox and Mason) for defamation of character, Sharpton, under oath, said he could “no longer recall” having made a number of his slanderous accusations against Pagones and other law-enforcement officials years earlier. Pagones won a $345,000 court judgment against Sharpton and his two accomplices, of which Sharpton was responsible for $65,000. But Sharpton, claiming poverty, never paid his debt. When asked in a deposition how he could afford the expensive suits he wore, he replied that he did not own the garments but was merely granted “access” to them as needed. The same, he said, applied to all his other belongings. Ultimately, Sharpton's $65,000 debt was paid (along with $22,000 in interest) in 2001 by a group of wealthy Sharpton supporters.
Notably, Sharpton has never apologized for the way he conducted himself throughout the Brawley hoax, because to apologize, he explains, would be “all about submission” to white people eager to “forc[e] a black man coming out of the hardcore ghetto to his knees.” Reflecting on the Brawley case 12 years after it first made headlines, Sharpton said: “If I had to do it again, I’d do it in the same way.”
In October 2013, Sharpton appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program to promote his new book, The Rejected Stone. When MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski raised the issue of the Brawley case, Sharpton replied:
"I think that what I learned in Brawley, and it’s a case where if I was called today by a young lady who made those claims, I would respond the same way, but what I wouldn’t do is get into a back and forth with name calling with the prosecutor, and go for the quick from the hip kind of flippant attitude with the press. You learn to do what you do better….Whereas 25 years ago, it was 'I don’t care what you think, I feel I’m right, I feel I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do,' now I’m not talking to the prosecutor."
Asked if he regretted the anguish he caused for the innocent Stephen Pagones, Sharpton answered:
"... Why would I say that I should not come to the defense of someone who had made a claim and those who had accused never would have come forth in the grand jury at that time that we got involved…. Any of the cases we get involved with, we’re not the investigators, but we have the basis of coming in based on we feel there has been a civil rights violation."
Pressed again on whether he would have acted similarly if he had known then what he knew now, Sharpton became animated:
"Well, what do I know now? A grand jury didn’t believe her?... You’ve got to remember the same prosecutor came after me on situations I knew was wrong. Why would I believe the jury that he used there?....Why wouldn’t civil rights leaders respond? That’s what we’re about.
Once again, Sharpton was pressed on whether he believed the Tawana Brawley case was a hoax. Again, he demurred:
"I believe that the basis of our involvement, of saying that this prosecutor should have moved forward and brought this into court was absolutely the right position to take, and that’s the position we took."
Forming the National Action Network
In 1991 Sharpton formed the National Action Network (NAN), whose platform "revolves around activism against racial profiling, police brutality, women’s issues, economic reform, public education, international affairs, including abolishing slavery in Africa, job awareness, AIDS awareness, and more."
Emphasizing the urgent need for aggressive left-wing activism, Sharpton during this period derided moderate black politicians with close ties to the Democratic Party as "cocktail-sip Negroes" or "yellow bleep."
The Anti-Semitic Riots in Crown Heights
In the summer of 1991, Sharpton injected himself into the unrest that followed an August 19 incident where a Hasidic Jewish driver had accidentally run over and killed a 7-year-old black boy named Gavin Cato in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Scarcely three hours after that accident, a mob of local blacks seeking retribution hunted down and murdered a 29-year-old Australian-born rabbinical student named Yankel Rosenbaum, who was not in any way involved in Cato's death. Shortly thereafter, Sharpton exploited the interracial angle of the boy's death to further fan the flames of racial animus. He organized angry protest demonstrations and challenged local Jews to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score if they were displeased with his actions.
Stirred, in part, by Sharpton's contentious anger, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks subsequently took to the streets for three days and nights of violent rioting. Sharpton reacted to the chaos by repeatedly shouting the mantra, “No justice, no peace!” “We must not reprimand our children for outrage,” he declared, “when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system.”
Years later, Norman Rosenbaum, brother of the murdered Yankel Rosenbaum, reflected on the events of August 1991: "Based on everything we have seen and read, Sharpton never called upon the rioters to stop their anti-Semitism-inspired violence. He never called on the rioters to go home." Rosenbaum elaborated:
"The riots were the product of anti-Semites taking advantage of the tragic death of a child to justify inflicting their violence on innocent people -- the Jewish community of Crown Heights -- and murdering Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jew from Australia, amid the cries of 'Kill the Jew!'"
Notwithstanding the mass violence that had engulfed Crown Heights in the wake of Gavin Cato's death, Sharpton, delivering the eulogy at the boy's funeral on August 26, persisted with his racially charged rhetoric. He told the mourners, for instance, that it was not merely a car accident that had killed the child, but rather the "social accident" of "an apartheid [Jewish] ambulance service in the middle of Crown Heights" that allegedly did not care enough to do everything in its power to help black victims in need. Added Sharpton:
"Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. The issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid.... All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise, no meetings, no coffee klatsch, no skinnin' and grinnin'. Pay for your deeds."
Failed Senate Bid
Sharpton ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and 1994, and he received 32 percent of the vote in the 1997 Democratic mayoral primary in New York City.
Sharpton Derides Mayor Dinkins As a "Ni**er Whore"
During the administration (1989-93) of New York City mayor David Dinkins (an African American), Sharpton angrily denounced Dinkins (when the latter was unsupportive of Sharpton's activism) in the following terms:
“David Dinkins, you wanna be the only ni**er on television, only ni**er in the newspaper, only ni**er that can talk. Don’t cover them, don’t talk to them, ’cause you got the only ni**er problem. ‘Cause you know if a black man stood up next to you, they would see you for the whore that you really are.” (Click here for audio.)
On another occasion, Sharpton referred to Dinkins as "that ni**er whore turning tricks in City Hall."
Becoming a Baptist Minister
In 1994 Sharpton was re-baptized into the Baptist faith and became a minister of that denomination.
The Racist Kean College Speech
Also in 1994, Sharpton delivered an incendiary speech at New Jersey’s Kean College, where he said:
“White folks was in the caves while we [blacks] was building empires … We built pyramids before Donald Trump ever knew what architecture was … we taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”
Sharpton subsequently explained that while his use of the word “homos” may have been “irresponsible,” it “is not a homophobic term”
The Kean College speech also featured Sharpton explaining that America’s founders consisted of “the worst criminals, the rejects they sent from Europe ... to the colonies.” “So [if] some cracker,” he continued, “come and tell you ‘Well, my mother and father blood go back to the Mayflower,’ you better hold you pocket. That ain’t nothing to be proud of, that means their forefathers was crooks.” Sharpton later defended his use of the word “cracker,” calling it merely a “colloquial term used to describe a certain kind of bigot, who hates both blacks and Jews. It’s certainly not a racist term and certainly not an anti-Semitic term, because a cracker hates Jews and blacks.”
Million Man March
In 1995 Sharpton -- along with such notables as Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama -- helped organize Louis Farrakhan's October 16th Million Man March.
The Deadly Boycott of Freddy's Fashion Mart
Also in 1995, Sharpton led his NAN in a racially charged boycott against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned business in Harlem. The boycott started when Freddy’s owners announced that because they wanted to expand their own business, they would no longer sublet part of their store to a black-owned record shop. The street leader of the boycott, Morris Powell, was also the head of Sharpton’s “Buy Black” Committee. Powell and his fellow protesters repeatedly and menacingly told passersby not to patronize the “crackers” and "the greedy Jew bastards [who are] killing our people." Some boycotters openly threatened violence against whites and Jews––all under the watchful, approving eye of Sharpton, who referred to the proprietors of Freddy's as "white interlopers." The subsequent picketing became ever-more menacing in its tone until one of the participants eventually shot (non-fatally) four whites inside the store and then set the building on fire––killing seven employees, most of whom were Hispanics.
Appearance at a Socialist Scholars Conference
In 1998 Sharpton was a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.
"Redeem the Dream" Rally
In August 2000, Sharpton held a "Redeem the Dream" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, where one the the featured speakers was Malik Zulu Shabazz. At that event, Shabazz called on black young people, including "gang members," to unite against their "common enemy" -- "white America" and its allegedly racist police departments. He also articulated a "black dream that when we see caskets rolling in the black community … we will see caskets and funerals in the community of our enemy as well."
Characterizing White Republicans As Racists
In a May 2003 speech sponsored by Harvard Law School, Sharpton characterized Republicans as racists who “cut taxes for the rich while [they] strangle the poor”; he likened black Republicans Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to subservient house slaves; he called for “$50 billion a year” in tax hikes so that America could “invest in working-class people, not multi-billionaires”; he proclaimed that “white male land owners” were in control of the United States; and he asserted that the descendants of the white men who “used to buy [blacks], now they rent 'em.”
Failed Presidential Campaign
A harsh critic of the Iraq War and the Patriot Act (which he called "unpatriotic" and "illegitimate" legislation), Sharpton campaigned for the U.S. presidency in 2004. Though his candidacy was unsuccessful, the Democratic Party establishment allowed him to speak in the prime-time slot on the third day of its national convention.
Supporting Cindy Sheehan
In August 2005 Sharpton visited activist Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas to show support for her anti-war, anti-Bush protest campaign.
Speech at an Anti-War Rally Organized by Pro-Communist Coalitions
On September 24, 2005, Sharpton spoke at the "Call to United Mass Action," an anti-Iraq War rally in Washington, DC that was co-organized by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice. Other speakers at the event, which was attended by an estimated 300,000 people, included Ramsey Clark, Cindy Sheehan, George Galloway, Ralph Nader, Lynne Stewart, Mahdi Bray, Dolores Huerta, Elias Rashmawi, Larry Holmes, Brian Becker, Michael Berg, and Michael Shehadeh.
The Duke Lacrosse Case
In March 2006, a black stripper accused three white members of the Duke University lacrosse team of having beaten, raped and sodomized her during an off-campus party. These charges triggered an instantaneous eruption of outrage among left-wing civil-rights activists. Sharpton, for his part, declared that these ”rich white boys” had attacked a ”black girl,” and warned that if arrests were not made immediately, there would be no peace. He further claimed that "this case parallels Abner Louima, who was raped and sodomized in a bathroom [by a New York City police officer] like this girl has alleged she was.... and just like in the Louima case, you have people here saying she fabricated it...." It later became evident, however, that the plaintiff's charges were indeed entirely fabricated, and all charges against the defendants were dropped.
Charging Racism in Major League Baseball's Steroid Investigations
In February 2008, Sharpton asserted that the federal government was seeking to prosecute black athletes more aggressively than white athletes in scandals over their alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. Specifically, Sharpton claimed that members of Congress, in their recent questioning of white pitcher Roger Clemens, had acted as if "they were at a fan club meeting," as compared to the allegedly harsher treatment which black outfielder Barry Bonds was receiving. "You've got to understand that the fight has always been about the criminalization of black men," said Sharpton.
Supporting Barack Obama
In March 2008, Sharpton, a strong supporter of Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, stated that he was accustomed to speaking with Obama on a regular basis -- "two or three times a week."
Shakedowns and Extortions
Sharpton often threatens to organize black boycotts of corporations on grounds that they supposedly discriminate against African Americans. Those companies, in turn, typically try to pacify Sharpton with cash; sometimes they hire him as a consultant. For example:
•In June 1998 Sharpton threatened to call for a consumer boycott of Pepsi, alleging that blacks were underrepresented in the company's advertising. Less than a year later, Pepsi hired Sharpton as a $25,000-per-year adviser until 2007.
•In November 2003, Sharpton threatened to lead a boycott of DaimlerChrysler over the allegedly pervasive “institutional racism” in the company’s car loan practices. Within six months, Chrysler began supporting Sharpton's NAN conferences.
•Also in 2003, Sharpton complained that American Honda had too few blacks in management positions. Company executives met with Sharpton, and within two months they began to sponsor NAN events.
•According to one General Motors spokesman, NAN repeatedly asked his company for contributions every year from 2000 through 2006, and GM each time declined to pay anything. Then, in December 2006 Sharpton threatened to call a boycott to protest the carmaker’s closing of an African American-owned GM dealership in the Bronx. In 2007 and 2008, General Motors made monetary donations to NAN.
Violating Federal Election Laws
In April 2009, Sharpton and his NAN were fined $285,000 for having violated election rules during Sharpton's 2004 presidential bid. According to the Federal Election Commission:
•Sharpton's campaign illegally accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in extravagant contributions from private sources.
•Sharpton's campaign “kept poor records of its activities and expenditures” and illegally commingled funds from the nonprofit NAN with his for-profit ventures.
•Sharpton lied to authorities regarding the amount of money he had raised during his 2004 campaign--so as to illegally qualify for federal matching funds.
Calling for Economic Equality
On May 2, 2010, Sharpton addressed a church congregation in Danbury, Connecticut, where he said that the late Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream "was not to put one black president in the White House," but rather "to make everything equal in everybody’s house."
The Trayvon Martin Case
Sharpton reacted passionately to a February 26, 2012 incident in Sanford, Florida, in which a "white Hispanic" neighborhood-watch captain named George Zimmerman shot and killed a 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin. When subsequent reports suggested that Martin had merely been in Zimmerman's neighborhood to purchase a bag of Skittles at a local shop, Sharpton said:
“It is an unbelievable burden, and hard to articulate, that [if you are black] you’re born automatically a suspect, and you have to operate and behave in a way that does not exacerbate or incite someone’s paranoia. We have come so far in this country that we can put a black man in the White House, but we can’t walk a black child down the neighborhood street to get a bag of Skittles.”
When Zimmerman was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a July 2013 trial, Sharpton blasted the verdict as an “atrocity” and “a slap in the face to those that believe in justice in this country.” Moreover, Sharpton announced that he and his National Action Network would soon be "mobilizing" protests in 100 U.S. cities.
Likening Republicans to Hitler
On May 25, 2012, Sharpton told a radio audience that Republicans view black people as subhumans, much as Adolf Hitler saw Jews:
"It seems like they [some of the right wing] act as though some wiping out of people ... is alright. It's not alright to do to any innocent people.... [T]o wipe out innocent people just 'cause of who they are, like was done in Hitler's Germany, or was done to Native Americans, is not justified."
Strategizing with Obama to Push Tax Hikes on the Wealthy
On December 4, 2012, Sharpton and several other "influential progressive" advisors (as described by White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest) met with President Barack Obama to strategize on how to best sell the American public on the need to raise taxes on people earning $250,000 or more, while extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all other U.S. residents. Also in attendance at the meeting were Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, MSNBC host Ed Schultz, and Arianna Huffington.
Later in December 2012, Sharpton spoke out publicly about a recent incident where a deranged gunman had shot and killed 26 people (including 20 children) at a Connecticut elementary school. Calling for stricter gun control measures, he said: "In any civilized society, you do not see massacres continue to happen ... and you keep the same laws when clearly they're not working." A questioner then asked Sharpton, "What happens when the criminal goes to knives?" Sharpton replied: "Then you deal with knives. The same thing you do if you have a head cold, and the cold is gone and you have a headache. Then you take headache medicine."
Claiming that President Obama's Likeness Belongs on Mount Rushmore
In January 2013, Sharpton stated that Barack Obama was at least as deserving as President Theodore Roosevelt of having his likeness appear on Mount Rushmore: "[Obama] stopped two wars and the whole question of finance reform on Wall Street and health care. I mean, he has done some concrete things.... [A] lot of people could say that Teddy Roosevelt was more of a character than a transformative president. I can name, literally, things that President Obama has done. Now, I’m going to say that if Teddy Roosevelt is the measure, I think it strengthens the case for President Obama."
TV and Radio
In addition to his social activism, Sharpton is also a broadcaster. In July 2011 he replaced Cenk Uygur as the host of a nightly MSNBC news/talk television program titled Politics Nation. Moreover, he hosts his own daily radio program, Keepin' It Real with Al Sharpton, which began airing in January 2006. And he hosts a weekly radio show titled Hour of Power on Sunday nights.
 Sharpton was not the only person involved in the Brawley case to be required by a court to pay restitution to Pagones. Indeed, Alton Maddox was found liable for $97,000, C. Vernon Mason for $188,000, and Ms. Brawley herself was ordered in 1998 to pay Pagones more than $190,000 plus 9 percent annual interest. The woman, however, made no payments at all on that debt until 2013, at which time a Virgina court forced her to begin paying Pagones $627 each month in garnisheed wages. By then, she owed the former district attorney a total of $431,492. Notably, Pagones indicated that he would be willing to forgive the debt if Brawley were to publicly admit that her 1987 accusations against him were fabricated.
 Sharpton himself eventually (in 2011) acknowledged that during the 1991 riots, he had not made any statements to indicate "that there was no justification or excuse for violence or for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum."
 Jonathan Mahler, “Sharpton’s Image As New Moderate Dimmed by Video,” Forward (December 22, 1995), p. 4. (Click here for audio.)