Sharpton, Al(fred Charles, Jr.) 1954-
SHARPTON, Al(fred Charles, Jr.) 1954-
Born October 3, 1954, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Alfred C. (a contractor and landlord) and Ada (a seamstress, domestic worker, and machinist; maiden name, Richards) Sharpton; married Kathy Jordan (a singer), October 31, 1985; children: Dominique, Ashley. Education: Attended Brooklyn College.
Office—National Action Network, 1941 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10035.
Minister and activist. Operation Breadbasket, New York, NY, youth director, 1969-71; National Youth Movement, Inc., founder and president, 1971-86; Washington Temple Church of God in Christ, junior pastor; National Action Network, Inc., New York, founder and president, 1991—; Bethany Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY, associate minister, 1994—.
National Rainbow Coalition Minister Division (national coordinator, 1993).
Man of the Year award, Omega Psi Phi; Goldsmith College fellow, 1991; community service award, SCLC Buffalo chapter, 1992; Man of the Year award, Caribbean-American Lobby, 1992; given Key to the City of Orange, NJ, 1993; Ecumenical Freedom-Fighter Award, 1998.
(With Louis Farrakhan and Lenora B. Fulani) Independent Black Leadership in America, Castillo International (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Anthony Walton) Go and Tell Pharaoh: The Autobiography of the Reverend Al Sharpton, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Karen Hunter) Al on America, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Minister and civil rights activist Al Sharpton is viewed by some as a hero and by others as an opportunist. Sharpton has remained in the headlines since becoming a public figure, despite his many setbacks—including two failed runs for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and 1994 and another for mayor of New York in 1997, charges of embezzlement and tax evasion, of which he was acquitted, the Tawana Brawley debacle, and a stabbing that occurred in 1991. Sharpton was attacked as he prepared to lead a protest march against the light sentence given to the killer of Yusef Hawkins, a black teen murdered by a batwielding mob in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn in 1989. The extreme tactics Sharpton has employed in his activism, often seen as incendiary, have led to his dozens of arrests and jail time, including a 2002 ninety-day sentence for protesting the testing of weapons by the U.S. military in Vieques, Puerto Rico. They have also made him the hero of young militant blacks.
Sharpton became an ordained Pentecostal minister at age ten and toured with the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Sharpton's father left the family while his son was still young, and Sharpton's mother supported her children by working as a cleaning woman and accepting welfare. While growing up, Sharpton sought support and encouragement from a number of father figures, including U.S. Senator Adam Clayton Powell, Jesse Jackson, and singer James Brown, whose own son had died in an automobile accident and whose hairstyle Sharpton adopted. Sharpton married Kathy Jordan, a singer with the Brown entourage.
Sharpton's Go and Tell Pharaoh: The Autobiography of the Reverend Al Sharpton was published when he was forty-one years old. Critic Walter Goodman wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Sharpton "comes through as more of an entertainer than a hater, a relentless protester with an instinct for the camera and an ambition to play on the main stage. His explanations of past embarrassments owe more to fast talking than to plain speaking, his interpretation of his dealings with the FBI being particularly hard to follow or swallow. Yet for all the self-puffery, there is enough here to explain both the admiration Mr. Sharpton has earned from many black New Yorkers and the mistrust he has earned from most whites." In fact, Sharpton describes himself as "part reformer, part social worker, part entertainer."
The book contains descriptions of several highly publicized cases with which Sharpton was involved, including the claim of black teen Tawana Brawley that she was raped by a group of white men, an allegation that was ultimately proven false. Sharpton writes of his first such involvement outside of his Brooklyn neighborhood, when in 1986, he demanded a murder indictment in the case of Bernard Goetz, a New Yorker who shot and killed four black teens because he claimed they were trying to rob him.
Phil Leggiere reviewed Go and Tell Pharaoh for Salon.com, saying that "in contrast to his public image … Sharpton comes across as a more complex figure than many might have suspected, actively rethinking earlier ideas, strategies, and prejudices with a candor not very often characteristic of politicians of any race, creed, or color." Ebony contributor Kevin Chappell wrote that, "ego aside, Sharpton makes no bones about his goal. He's on a mission to build a national civil-rights organization and a social movement the same way [Martin Luther] King did with SCLC and Jackson did with Operation Breadbasket and later the Rainbow/Push Coalition.… To say his movement has taken root and grown is an understatement. Since opening his House of Justice in Harlem in 1991, Sharpton's National Action Network has rapidly expanded across the country."
Al on America was published as Sharpton announced his candidacy for the 2004 presidential election. The book promotes his ideas and the policies he would like to see enacted, including an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba. He believes in the separation of church and state, higher pay for teachers, and the right of all citizens, including those with prison records, to vote.
In the period between the publication of Sharpton's two books, the public had developed an increased awareness of racial profiling by police and had borne witness to a number of incidents of extreme police brutality. Sharpton was a vocal protestor when in August 1998, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was arrested and tortured by four white New York City policemen who sodomized him with a plunger handle. In an equally shocking case the following February, four New York City policemen searching for a rape suspect knocked on Amadou Diallo's door to question him. He came to the door and reached inside his jacket for his wallet, at which point the officers shot at him forty-one times, hitting him with nineteen bullets.
New York Observer contributor Baz Dreisinger wrote that Sharpton's "leadership during the Diallo trial transformed him from a Ras the Exhorter figure—the character in Ellison's Invisible Man who stood on street corners, wildly boding doom—into a potent human-rights leader whose efforts helped dismantle the NYPD's controversial Street Crimes Unit." Dreisinger said of the book that, "instead of analysis, Mr. Sharpton offers up simple, usually appealing declarations about the is and the ought. He has mastered the voice that American oratory is famous for: plain style (reminiscent of Puritan sermons), repetition that builds to a climax (echoing Martin Luther King), and a homily or anecdote at every turn (providing the sort of homespun wisdom that, as someone like Lincoln knew, appeals to everyman)."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Newsmakers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Religious Leaders of America, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Sharpton, Al, and Anthony Walton, Go and Tell Pharaoh: The Autobiography of the Reverend Al Sharpton, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Black Issues Book Review, September-October, 2002, Tracy Grant, review of Al on America, p. 32.
Ebony, July, 2001, Kevin Chappell, "The 'New' Al Sharpton Talks about the 'Old' Al Sharpton and the New Threats to Black Americans" (interview), p. 124.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of Al on America, p. 1290.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 23, 1996, Dick Russell, review of Go and Tell Pharaoh: The Autobiography of the Reverend Al Sharpton, p. 8.
New Republic, April 22, 1996, Jim Sleeper, review of Go and Tell Pharaoh, p. 34.
New Yorker, February 18, 2002, Elizabeth Kolbert, "The People's Preacher: Al Sharpton Would Rather Walk Naked than Wear Your Wretched Dress," p. 156.
New York Times Book Review, June 23, 1996, Walter Goodman, review of Go and Tell Pharaoh, p. 27.
Publishers Weekly, August 26, 2002, review of Al on America, p. 54.
Tikkun, July-August, 1999, Jack Newfield, "An Interview with Al Sharpton," p. 22.
Time, April 8, 1996, Jack E. White, review of Go and Tell Pharaoh, p. 74.
National Review Online,http://www.nationalreview.com/ (October 8, 2002), Rod Dreher, review of Al on America.
New York Observer Online,http://www.observer.com/ (January 7, 2003), Baz Dreisinger, review of Al on America.
Washington Times Online,http://www.washtimes.com/ (November 15, 2002), Deborah Simmons, "Al Sharpton, Anyone?"*