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Al Sharpton
2016 National Action Network King Day Breakfast (24485953015).jpg
Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr.

October 3, 1954 (1954-10-03) (age 67)
Education City University of New York, Brooklyn
Occupation Baptist minister
Civil rights/social justice activist
Radio and television talk show host
Years active 1969–present
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Marsha Tinsley
Kathy Jordan
(m. 1980; separated 2004)

Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. (born October 3, 1954) is an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, talk show host and politician. Sharpton is the founder of the National Action Network. In 2004, he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential election.

He hosts his own radio talk show, Keepin' It Real, and he makes regular guest appearances on cable news television. In 2011, he was named the host of MSNBC's PoliticsNation, a nightly talk show. In 2015, the program was shifted to Sunday mornings.

Sharpton's supporters praise "his ability and willingness to defy the power structure that is seen as the cause of their suffering" and consider him "a man who is willing to tell it like it is."

Former Mayor of New York City Ed Koch, one-time foe, said that Sharpton deserves the respect he enjoys among black Americans: "He is willing to go to jail for them, and he is there when they need him."

President Barack Obama said that Sharpton is "the voice of the voiceless and a champion for the downtrodden."

A 2013 Zogby Analytics poll found that one quarter of African Americans said that Sharpton speaks for them.

Sharpton has written or co-written three books, Go and Tell Pharaoh, with Nick Chiles, Al on America, and The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership.

Early life

Al sharpton book signing in marcus garvey park
Al sharpton book signing in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem

Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. was born in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City, to Ada (née Richards) and Alfred Charles Sharpton Sr. The family has some Cherokee roots. He preached his first sermon at the age of four and toured with gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

In 1963, Sharpton's father left his wife. Ada took a job as a maid, but her income was so low that the family qualified for welfare and had to move from middle class Hollis, Queens, to the public housing projects in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Al Sharpton 3 by David Shankbone
Al Sharpton (painting is of Al and James Brown

Sharpton graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, and attended Brooklyn College, dropping out after two years in 1975. In 1972, he accepted the position of youth director for the presidential campaign of African-American Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.

Between the years 1973 and 1980 Sharpton served as James Brown's tour manager.

In February 2007, genealogist Megan Smolenyak discovered that Sharpton's great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed.

The Sharpton family name originated with Coleman Sharpton's previous slave-owner, who was named Alexander Sharpton.

Political views

Al Sharpton 2 by David Shankbone
Al Sharpton at National Action Network's headquarters

In September 2007, Sharpton was asked whether he considered it important for the US to have a black president. He responded, "It would be a great moment as long as the black candidate was supporting the interest that would inevitably help our people. A lot of my friends went with Clarence Thomas and regret it to this day. I don't assume that just because somebody's my color, they're my kind. But I'm warming up to Obama, but I'm not there yet."

Sharpton has spoken out against cruelty to animals in a video recorded for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Sharpton is a supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians, including same-sex marriage. Sharpton is leading a grassroots movement to eliminate homophobia within the Black church.

Al Sharpton by David Shankbone
Al Sharpton 2007

In 2014, Sharpton began a push for criminal justice reform, citing the fact that black people represent a greater proportion of those arrested and incarcerated in America.

In August 2017, Sharpton called for the federal government to stop maintaining the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and had children with his slave Sally Hemings. He said taxpayer funds should not be used to care for monuments to slave-owners and that private museums were preferable.


Al Sharpton, 1989 Protest March, Brooklyn NY
Al Sharpton, 1989 Protest March, Brooklyn NY

In 1969, Sharpton was appointed by Jesse Jackson to serve as youth director of the New York City branch of Operation Breadbasket, a group that focused on the promotion of new and better jobs for African Americans.

In 1971 Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement to raise resources for impoverished youth.

In 1999, Sharpton led a protest to raise awareness about the death of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea who was shot to death by NYPD officers. Sharpton claimed that Diallo's death was the result of police brutality and racial profiling.

Diallo's family was later awarded $3 million in a wrongful death suit filed against the city, he has worked on many cases to be the voice of those done wrong by in the colored community.


We Stand United - NYC Rally on Night Before Trump’s Inauguration (32308528801)
We Stand United - NYC Rally on Night Before Trump’s Inauguration

Sharpton was licensed and ordained a Pentecostal minister by Bishop F. D. Washington at the age of nine or ten. After Bishop Washington's death in the late 1980s, Sharpton became a Baptist.

He was re-baptized as a member of the Bethany Baptist Church in 1994 by the Reverend William Augustus Jones and became a Baptist minister.

During 2007, Sharpton participated in a public debate with atheist writer Christopher Hitchens, defending his religious faith and his belief in the existence of God.

Assassination attempt

On January 12, 1991, Sharpton escaped serious injury when he was stabbed in the chest in the schoolyard at P.S. 205 by Michael Riccardi while Sharpton was preparing to lead a protest through Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, New York. The intoxicated attacker was apprehended by Sharpton's aides and handed over to police, who were present for the planned protest.

The schoolyard of P.S. 205 in Brooklyn, c. 1991

In 1992, Riccardi was convicted of first-degree assault. Sharpton asked the judge for leniency when sentencing Riccardi. The judge sentenced Riccardi to five to 15 years in jail, and he served ten years in prison being released on parole on January 8, 2001.

Sharpton, although forgiving his attacker and pleading for leniency on his behalf, filed suit against New York City alleging that the many police present had failed to protect him from his attacker. In December 2003, he finally reached a $200,000 settlement with the city.

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