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THE REVEREND AL SHARPTON

Rev. Al Sharpton

Reverend Alfred Sharpton is a reknowned American civil rights activist who like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Jesse Jackson, shot to national prominence during the 1960's. Reverend Sharpton was among the key players in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's(SCLC) BreadBasket program alongside Rev. Jackson and others. This was a program intended to encourage American businesses to not only hire blacks, but help sell their products too. However unlike Rev. King, Jr and Rev. Jackson who took their activism across the United States, Rev. Sharpton's activism was for a long time restricted to his home state New York and the city of Brooklyn in particular, where he staged some memorable protests.

Never one to shy away from a camera, and gifted with a rare brand of articulacy, Rev. Sharpton has capitalized on the extensive media coverage of his numerous protests and propelled himself into the centerstage of black leadership. While some call him a creation of the media, many others(especially his black supporters) will tell you its the very media that is destroying him by overplaying some of his controversial undertakings, particularly the Tawana Brawley incident.

Alfred Sharpton was born in 1954 in the US City of Brooklyn, New York. His father, reportedly a well-off New York contractor left his mother when Al was just 10 forcing her into welfare. Al Sharpton attended Tilden High School in Brooklyn before enrolling at Brooklyn College. He however dropped out of Brooklyn College before graduating. He must have been a very gifted kid because reports have it that at 13, he was already an ordained Pentecostal Minister. His talents caught the eye of Rev. Jesse Jackson, who in 1969, made him the Youth Director of his Operation BreadBasket. Rev. Sharpton held this post until 1970 when he founded the National Youth Movement(NYM) with a stated objective of tackling urban youth problems, particularly drug and violence.

Rev.Sharpton's rise in the civil rights movement is attributed to the publicity he got from the numerous protests he organized initially in Brooklyn, and later all across the US. In 1970 he got his first encounter with the law when he was arrested after leading a sit-in at New York City Hall to demand more summer jobs for teenagers. In 1971 he again made news when he encouraged black children in Harlem to participate in the African Kwanzaa celebrations as opposed to Christmas. In 1974 he led a demonstration of about 500 people to New York City Hall to protest the police-killing of a 14 year old black youth. Following the demonstrations the New York City's Deputy Mayor agreed to sit down in a meeting with black leaders to address their concerns.

In 1984 Rev. Sharpton was again in the forefront during the protests to secure the conviction of Bernhard Goetz, a white subway gunman who shot and killed four unarmed black teenagers alleging they were trying to rob him. Though indicted on a murder charge, Goetz was acquitted on all but minor gun charges. Rev. Sharpton was at it again in 1986 during the Howard Beach racial killing where 3 black men were assaulted by a mob of white youths while leaving a pizza parlour. One of the black men died when he was run over by a car while attempting to flea the bat-wielding white youths. Rev. Sharpton's high profile protests during this incident sparked a huge national debate and disrupted business in the major New York cities of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

In 1987, Rev. Sharpton led the Tawana Brawley protests that would later turn out to be a major damper to his fledging civil rights career. The then 15 year old Tawana Brawley, a black upstate New York girl alleged she had been raped by about 6 white men, one of whom had an officer's badge. Rev. Sharpton was in the forefront accusing the police officers of the alleged rape while at the same time encouraging Brawley not to cooperate with New York state investigators. Evidence has since indicated that Tawana Brawley might have made up the whole story, dealing a huge blow to Rev. Sharpton's career and reputation. Rev. Sharpton's detractors have used this incident ever since to discredit him.

In 1988, in yet another major blow to his person and career, Rev. Sharpton was accused of being an infornmant for the FBI, secretly furnishing them with information on leading black figures. He has since admitted to the charges claiming that he was "tricked" into it. In 1989, Rev. Sharpton was accused but later acquitted on tax evasion charges. In 1990 he was again acquitted on charges that he pocketed more than half of the 250,000 US dollars raised at his National Youth Movement(NYM).

On Jan 12th 1991 Rev. Sharpton was stabbed in the chest before leading a protest march in Bensonhurst, a predominantly while Brooklyn neighbourhood. It was a protest for the light sentence given to the killer of Yusef Hawkins, a black teenager in 1989. The stabbing, which occured in front of roughly 100 police officrs and scores of Rev. Sharpton's supporters drew national attention. When Michael Riccardi, a Bensonhurst resident later convicted of the stabbing in 1992, Rev. Sharpton used the media spotlight to showcase his Christian side by begging the judge for leniency when sentencing Riccardi. It was also in 1992 that Rev. Sharpton ventured into politics proper when he ran for the New York senate seat. He was however defeated in the Democratic primaries by Geraldine Ferraro. He again put up another unsuccessful Senate race in 1994 when he was defeated in the Democratic primaries by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan. Though Rev. Sharpton lost the 2 primaries, he has sinceestablished himself as a legitimate black power broker and is often courted by various political hopefuls keen on attracting the black vote.

In 1997 Rev. Sharpton again lost in the Democratic primaries for the New York City's Mayoral elections. He lost to Ruth Messinger who subsequently lost to Rudolph Giuliani. Rev. Sharpton has recently announced his intention to get the Democratic Party nomination for the 2004 US Presidential elections. Eventhough no one realistically expects Rev. Sharpton to prevail in the Democratic primaries, his supporters are content that his prescence there will help inject minority issues into the Presidential debates.

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