Skip to comments.Sharpton built his career on speaking loud, proud
Posted on 10/05/2003 9:11:41 AM PDT by schaketo
NEW YORK -- The Rev. Al Sharpton is a long shot to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But he is the front-runner for most interesting candidate.
"The Rev," as his supporters call him, was ordained at age 9, worked for Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at 13, later befriended and managed James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, and worked with boxing promoter Don King and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.
He also was an FBI informant, survived a stabbing and then visited his assailant in jail, and went to jail himself. He still professes the belief that Tawana Brawley was telling the truth, and he is proclaimed by former New York Mayor Ed Koch -- who once called him "Rev. Charlatan" -- to have more wit than the other nine candidates combined.
At 49, Sharpton -- whose campaign says he will speak at Atlanta's Spelman College on Tuesday -- has been called a saint and a street hustler. But he's never been accused of being boring.
His whole life has been built upon speaking up -- loud and proud. Even the numbness left over from an emergency root canal couldn't silence him last week.
"You're going to see me going all over this country slapping the donkey," Sharpton said, referring to the symbol of the Democratic Party. "I'm going to slap that donkey until he kicks George Bush out of the White House."
'Boy Wonder Preacher'
Born Oct. 3, 1954, Sharpton was 4 when he put on his mama's bathrobe, pretended that a candle was a microphone, and began preaching to his sister's dolls.
The Sharpton family lived in a racially mixed middle-class neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. His father, Alfred Sr., was a contractor and landlord who drove a Cadillac. His mother, Ada, was a devout churchgoer. Young Alfred's sermons soon spread from his sister Cheryl's dolls to real people filling real pews. He was called the "Boy Wonder Preacher."
But in 1964, the Sharpton family fragmented. Young Alfred's teenage half sister, Tina -- his mother's child by a previous marriage -- was impregnated by his father. The two moved away together. The remaining family members moved to the Brownsville housing project in Brooklyn and went on welfare.
Sharpton's early role model, Bishop Frederick Douglas Washington, became one of a series of surrogate fathers. The minister urged the boy to read widely. One of those books was a biography of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and the first African-American to represent New York in Congress.
Young Sharpton was so moved by the book that he and his sister took the subway one Sunday to hear Powell preach. After the service, the boy preacher boldly marched to the church office and announced that the Rev. Sharpton was there to meet the Rev. Powell. Not long afterward, Sharpton became a member of the congressman's entourage. Sharpton counts Powell, who died in 1972, as a major influence in his life.
"I learned from Adam Powell, I think, defiance," Sharpton said.
"Powell became very powerful even in the Congress and what we would call the power structure," Sharpton said. But "he never lost his defiance, his willingness and ability to stand up against great odds and against what he felt was wrong."
In 1969, Sharpton was named national youth director for Operation Breadbasket, a civil rights organization based in Chicago. The national adult director was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"I learned civil rights from him," Sharpton recalled. "I learned civil disobedience. Passive resistance. Protests. March. And then later, politics. Jackson's runs for president were the case studies in how activism can transcend into electoral politics."
In the early 1970s, Sharpton went backstage at a concert in New Jersey and met the man who would teach him the showmanship that became a prominent part of his career: James Brown.
Sharpton went to work for the soul singer, known as "the hardest-working man in show business."
"He's got just about every award you can get in music, but he did it on his own terms," said Sharpton. "That's what I learned from Brown. You've got to have enough courage and determination to go your way and do it your way. If you do, in the end the world will have to respect you."
It was Brown who told Sharpton that "Alfred" was too long and not catchy enough for an activist. The singer declared, "It's got to be Al Sharpton," the candidate recalled. "And from that night on, that's what I called myself."
Brown even pushed Sharpton into his trademark straightened hairstyle. In 1981 they were on their way to the White House to lobby for making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday.
"[Brown] said, 'You're like my son, and I want you to style your hair like mine so when they take your pictures . . . with me they'll know you're like my son,' " Sharpton said.
While working for Brown, Sharpton became acquainted with Don King, the wild-haired boxing promoter. Mobutu Sese Seko, then president of Zaire, wanted a James Brown concert to go along with his country's hosting of the "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
During this period, Sharpton drew the attention of law enforcement agencies. In what he later called "a failed entrapment attempt by the government," the FBI taped Sharpton as he listened to an undercover agent discuss a drug deal. However, no criminal charges were ever filed. Sharpton himself was an informant for a time, a point of controversy in some circles.
"I gave the FBI information on drug dealers. And I think I should be saluted for that," he said.
But the events that were most controversial -- and that made Sharpton a national figure -- were racial protests in New York.
On Nov. 28, 1987, Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old black girl living in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., claimed to have been abducted and raped by six white men. Sharpton became one of her advisers, organizing marches and protests in her behalf. He accused an assistant district attorney of being one of the assailants.
The case was thrown out of court in 1988, and a grand jury ruled Brawley's story had been fabricated. A decade later, a jury found Brawley, Sharpton and two other advisers liable for defamation. He was hit with a $65,000 judgment.
"I believe something happened to Tawana Brawley," Sharpton maintained last week. "I think it is absurd that someone would say that a 15-year-old girl could have made all that up, including fooling a hospital."
Sharpton has also been accused of some financial irregularities, including failing to file a tax return in 1986. He told National Public Radio that he subsequently filed it and paid the fine. He has been jailed several times for illegal protests.
In 1989 Sharpton became involved in another racial incident that nearly cost him his life. Sharpton was leading a protest in Bensonhurst, N.Y., when a young white man broke through police ranks and stabbed him in the chest.
Though the wound was close to being life-threatening, Sharpton said, "I ended up going to his sentencing and asking the judge to have leniency on him."
After the attacker sent him a letter apologizing, Sharpton visited him in prison.
"It was a difficult thing to do, because this man did try to kill me," he said. "But I thought it was the right thing to do and after I did it, I thought it was one of the better things I've done in life."
In conversation, Sharpton speaks softly and without the cadence of the pulpit.
"I want to be president because I think that not only does this country need a new director, it needs a new direction," he said. "I think the direction that the country is going in terms of these across-the-board tax cuts, these foreign engagements like Iraq, and the whole matrix of moving away from the respect and the sacred upholding of the vote and civil liberties is the wrong direction.
"I happen to feel that too many in my own party, the Democratic Party, have accommodated some of this, which is why I decided to enter the Democratic primaries to win the nomination and challenge Bush," he said.
On the stump, Sharpton often attacks the Democratic Leadership Council, a group that has pushed the party toward the political center and has counted among its members former President Clinton.
"The swing vote is not on the right," Sharpton declared at a recent Congressional Black Caucus gathering. "The swing vote is in the barrios and the 'hood and the hip-hop generation."
Ed Kilgore, policy director of the Democratic Leadership Council, challenged Sharpton's assessment of the party's direction.
"The myth that the Democratic Party is moving way to the right is just that -- a myth," Kilgore said. "There is no shortage of centrist candidates attacking the president."
In recent years Sharpton himself has moved toward the political mainstream, forging an alliance with former New York Mayor Ed Koch, once a foe, when they pushed together for legislation to end disparities in sentencing between black and white drug offenders.
Politically, Sharpton has shown an ability to win African-American votes but not elections. In the 1994 Democratic primary for the New York senator's race, Sharpton received 80 percent of the black vote and 25 percent of the total against Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Sharpton said the establishment routinely disrespects him as a candidate.
"I think the media has an innate double standard -- not only with people of color, but of candidates that don't fit their profile," he said. "For example, in most national polls I am in the top five, top six candidates. I've been ahead of Bob Graham and John Edwards in mostly all of the polls. What makes them top-tier candidates and me second-tier?"
As for fund-raising, he conceded that his campaign would not "raise the kind of dollars that others are raising."
"But I don't have to have those kinds of dollars," he said. "We're going to have what we need to do what we want."
BIG AL NEEDS OUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER!
*** Register as a democrat and vote for Crazy Al! ***
During the May 3, 2003 demoncrap debate in Columbia, S.C., our man Al stated The way to move a donkey is to slap the donkey, and Im going to slap the donkey until the donkey kicks.
Lets help Crazy Al slap the donkey until it kicks.
GW has the Republican nomination sewn up. Its time for all good republicans, libertarians, and independents to stand up and be counted. Lets take a page from Sen. McCains play book. Prior to the 2004 democratic presidential primary in your state, re-register as a democrat and vote for Al Sharpton!
Lets ensure Crazy Al gets prime time speaking rights at the 2004 nationally televised democratic convention. You gotta love it. Line up, sign up, and send this to all your like-minded friends.
Here is a link to planned 2004 primary dates from the National Association of Secretaries of State:
Check here for the rules governing primary voting in your state:
In case youd like to send Big Al a donation:
Anyone need a bumper sticker or button?
How about an Al Sharpton yard sign?
Want to keep up on the latest on Big Als progress? Go to the Republicans for Sharpton website at:
Oh yea, and dont forget to call the local demoncrap party headquarters and ask them the following before the primary election:
1. Can I get a ride to the polls help them spend their money during the primaries so theyll have less during the national election. Have them take you the scenic route and stop off and do some shopping on the way home.
2. Are you giving anything away free for voting democrat? Cigarettes, booze, box of cigars, box lunch, etc. Ask for two of each.
3. Send 25 cents in the mail to the DNC and watch how much they spend on mailing you to give to the party. Always send their solicitation back to them with all associated literature in the prepaid envelope included in the mailing. They have to pay that postage upon return. Great way to help them spend money and keep you up to date on their propaganda.
Democratic National Committee
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Washington, DC 20003
Main Phone Number: 202-863-8000
Can you think of any other questions we should ask them?
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