Preaching at the age of four, ordained a minister at the astonishing age of ten, and working for Rev. Jesse Jackson by the age of fifteen, Alfred C. “Al” Sharpton started his populist undertakings before most Americans even began to think about politics. Yet even with his active involvement in civil rights, Sharpton still found the time to be James Brown’s touring manager from 1973 until the early 80s. Upon leaving the Godfather of Soul, he stepped up his activism, especially in his hometown of New York. There, he brought attention to crimes such as the Howard Beach incident, where a group of whites chased African-American Michael Griffiths onto a highway where he was struck and killed by a car. His advocacy brought attention to the shocking state of racial relations in what was supposed to be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. In 1987 he lead a protest march which effectively shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, an act which landed him in jail for 45 days.
A backlash to Sharpton’s outspoken nature has brought up charges that he’s a cheap publicity hound who makes himself the story, yet these detractors fail to point out the impact his efforts have had in improving race relations and the passing of legislation which enforces civil rights. In 1991 he founded the National Action Network, a civil rights organization that seeks economic justice and political empowerment for the disenfranchised. He ran for Senate unsuccessfully in 1992 and 1994 and has most recently run for president in 2004.
A visit to Sharpton’s website for his candidacy (subtitled “Fighting For Fundamental Human Rights”) reveals some of the major points of his platform:
Increase voter registration.
Fight to ensure women’s rights are not stolen from them by the Republican Right.
Deliver universal health care for the nation, not hidden benefits to the health care industry.
Raise issues that would otherwise be overlooked—for example, affirmative action and anti-death penalty policy.
Help working people by giving them the biggest tax cuts – not the rich.
Strengthen our REAL national security by fighting for human rights, the rule of law, and economic justice at home and abroad.
Clearly unelectable ideas. Still, John Kerry adopted Sharpton’s “Urban Agenda,” which embraces Affirmative Action, and cracks down on police brutality, improves schools in minority districts, increases minority access to health care, and bolsters programs to create jobs for minorities.
We applaud Sharpton for not only believing that the people are the government, but for acting on this belief and, most importantly, encouraging others to do the same. Sometimes controversial but always genuine and populist in the truest sense of the word, the Reverend Al Sharpton is Grapevine’s American of the Month.
You can visit Sharpton’s website at