December 6, 2012
* 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
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 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.
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.
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.”
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 never paid his debt; rather, it was paid (along with $22,000 in interest) in 2001 by a group of wealthy Sharpton supporters.
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.”
That same year, anti-Semitic riots erupted in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section after a Hasidic Jewish driver accidentally ran over and killed a 7-year-old black boy. Delivering the eulogy at the boy’s funeral, Sharpton told the mourners:
“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’.”
Within three hours, a black mob had hunted down and slain an innocent rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, in retribution.
Undeterred, Sharpton declared that it was not merely a car accident that had killed the black child, but rather the “social accident” of “apartheid.” He organized angry demonstrations and challenged local Jews––whom he derisively called “diamond merchants”––to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Stirred by such rhetoric, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks took violently to the streets for three days and nights of rioting. Sharpton reacted to the chaos by stating, “We must not reprimand our children for outrage, when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system.” Further, he repeatedly bellowed to the rioters, “No justice, no peace!” According to Norman Rosenbaum, brother of the murdered Yankel Rosenbaum, “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 adds:
“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!'”
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.
In 1994 Sharpton was re-baptized into the Baptist faith and became a minister of that denomination.
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.”
In 1995 Sharpton–along with such notables as Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama–helped organize Louis Farrakhan’s October 16th Million Man March.
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 [black] 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.
In 1998 Sharpton was a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.
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.”
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.”
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.
In August 2005 Sharpton visited activist Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas to show support for her anti-war, anti-Bush protest campaign.
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.
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.
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.”
Sharpton often threatens to organize black boycotts of corporations on grounds that they supposedly discriminate against African Americans. Those companies, in turn, commonly 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.
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.
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.”
Sharpton reacted passionately to a February 26, 2012 incident in Sanford, Florida, in which a white Hispanic neighborhood-watch captain named George Zimmerman gunned down an unarmed 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin, who Zimmerman thought was armed and acting suspiciously. After 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.”
In July 2011, Sharpton replaced Cenk Uygur as the host of a nightly news / talk television program on MSNBC.
Sharpton also hosts his own radio program, The Hour of Power, which airs for three hours each weekday in New York. During his May 25, 2012 broadcast, Sharpton asserted 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.”
 Jonathan Mahler, “Sharpton’s Image As New Moderate Dimmed by Video,” Forward (December 22, 1995), p. 4.