Kam Williams Interviews Reverend
Murder in Black and White (New Television
Premiering Sunday, October 5th
Alfred Charles Sharpton, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, NY on
October 3, 1954 to Ada and Alfred, Sr., a descendant of
slaves owned by the ancestors of segregationist U.S.
Senator Strom Thurmond. Called to the ministry at an
early age, young Al started preaching at the age of 4,
was ordained at 9, and went on tour as a child with
gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.
In 1971, he took a job as James Brown’s tour manager,
forging an enduring friendship with the “Hardest Working
Man in Show Business.” Rev Al took that work ethic with
him when he decided to dedicate his life to civil rights
activism. A tireless advocate of the poor and
underprivileged, he founded the Harlem-based National
Action Network, an organization aimed at alleviating
Al’s most recent
cause, lobbying the Supreme Court on behalf of the Death
Row inmate Troy Davis, resulted in an 11th hour stay of
execution. Here, he reflects not only on that triumph,
but on everything from his voter registration drive to
Barack Obama to the Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell cases.
Plus, he talks about his new television show, Murder
in Black and White, directed by documentary
filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, which is set to premiere on
Sunday October 5th, with episodes airing on four
consecutive evenings at 10 PM EST on TV One Network.
(Check local listings)
* * *
KW: Hey, Reverend Sharpton, thanks
for the time. I’m honored to be speaking with you.
Al Sharpton: No problem.
KW: Congratulations on the Troy
Davis stay of execution.
Al Sharpton: Thank you.
KW: What will you be working on
Al Sharpton: Well, the National Action
Network is working on several things. Following up on
the Troy Davis case… I’ve also been doing a national bus
tour doing voter registration and voter protection
rallies. We did Kansas City, Missouri, three cities in
North Carolina, and Philadelphia, a city a day last
week. This coming week, I’m doing Charlotte, Cleveland
and Prince George County in Maryland. So, we’re all over
KW: You were on the fence about the
election for awhile. Have you come out in support of a
presidential candidate yet?
Al Sharpton: Yeah, I’m supporting Senator
Obama, but the National Action Network tour is
non-partisan. You can’t do voter registration and be
partisan. But I’ve personally endorsed Barack Obama,
KW: What did you think of the first
Al Sharpton: I thought it went well. I
thought Senator Obama held his own.
KW: Let’s talk about your new TV
show. What interested you in hosting Murder in Black and
Al Sharpton: A lot of people know the story
of Emmett Till. A lot of people know about Medgar Evers.
But many don’t understand that there were many other
lynchings. These were the prices that were paid for
folks like me, and Obama, and [New York State Governor]
David Patterson, and [Massachusetts Governor] Deval
Patrick to do what we do. I think that by bringing these
cases to light, it gives people an understanding of the
culture of racial violence, as well as the fact that
some of these cases are still unsolved. So it’s a
matter of teaching history in a dramatic way, because
this is not the kind of documentary series that puts you
to sleep. It’s been done very well. It’s not only
riveting but it reminds you that we’re just a generation
or two away from lynchings, and that some of the
perpetrators are still alive and at large.
KW: I was born in 1952 and raised
in the North, but my parents subscribed to black papers
like the Pittsburgh Courier which covered all the lynchings and mysterious disappearances in the South
ignored by the mainstream press. So I grew up with a
sense that there was a different energy and danger for
black folks in the South.
Al Sharpton: Exactly right. And I was born
in ’54 and raised in the North, but I would hear horror
stories from my mother. I know what it did for me, a
generation removed, to now see it in these episodes. I
hope it touches the generation behind me and others, so
they can understand the gravity of what the Civil Rights
Movement and challenging Jim Crow segregation was all
KW: What do you think is the best
way for the elders of the Civil Rights Movement to come
together with members of the Hip-Hop Generation?
Al Sharpton: I think in many ways, because
of the major media, we’re not looking at this correctly.
You have the elders of the Civil Rights Generation, the
Joe Lowery to Jesse Jackson group. But then you have a
group in between those generations, which includes
Martin Luther King III, myself and others in their 40s
and 50s. Barack is in this generation. Then you have the
Hip-Hop Generation. See, I think the white media acts
like we went straight from 1960 to 2008. That’s not
true. Those in that middle generation that I’m in
understand the elders because we were raised by them.
And we understand some of the younger people because
they’re our little sisters and brothers. The way we come
together is on the civil rights and human rights issues.
The other thing the media has done wrongly is confuse
hip-hop activism, the term you used in the question,
with hip-hop entertainers. The leaders of the Hip-Hop
Generation in terms of activism are the students who
worked with us on the Martin Lee Anderson case in
Florida, the Jena Six case in Louisiana, or the Genarlow
Wilson case in Georgia. They’re not the hip-hop artists
doing shows and talking about how they want to be new
leaders when they’re not involved in any activism, any
more than The Temptations and The Supremes led the Selma
March, or Luther Vandross led the Amadou Diallo march. I
think the white media has very cynically tried to act
like the leaders of the Hip-Hop Generation are the
entertainers, and not credit the student leaders and
others who have become activists and are acting with my
generation and with the elders.
KW: Do you feel the same way about
civil disobedience as a tactic in cases where cops kill
innocent black men after the police were found not
guilty in both the Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell cases?
Al Sharpton: First of all, in the case of Amadou Diallo, we did civil disobedience prior to the
indictments. That’s how we got the indictments. There
was no civil disobedience after the verdict. Yes, it was
effective in that case, because we wouldn’t have even
gotten any indictments without it. And we used the same
tactic with the Abner Louima case, which we won. With
Sean Bell, we used civil disobedience afterwards, but
the jury is still out on whether the Feds will come in.
But you gotta remember, from the Howard Beach case,
where people went to jail, to Bensonhurst case, where
people went to jail, to Abner Louima to Jena, where we
got Mychal Bell out of jail, you have wins and losses.
Dr. King lost in Albany, Georgia, but won in Selma.
Yeah, we lost Diallo, but look at all the others that we
Not only is the tactic effective, but these would
not be issues had we not performed civil disobedience.
Part of activism lies in bringing attention to the
issues, so that legislators and others have to respond.
For example, we used civil disobedience and marching to
dramatize the New Jersey 4 case. Well, that put the
first profiling law on the books. Had it not been for
our activism, profiling would not be part of American
jurisprudence. Out of that came racial profiling
legislation, including what Barack did in Illinois.
you remove all the protests, tell me if they’d even be
addressing the issue of police brutality and racial
profiling. There have been plenty of people martyred,
but unfortunately the only ones you can name are the
ones there have been movements around. Dr. King in his
day never passed legislation. He demonstrated civil
disobedience that led Adam Clayton Powell and others in
Congress to pass legislation, and Thurgood Marshall
making new law in the courts. We are trying to do in our
day what King did. I think some people are confused
about the process.
KW: What did you think about Jesse
Jackson’s off-camera comments about Barack Obama’s
Father’s Day speech?
Al Sharpton: I thought he was wrong and I
was very public in my criticism. I went on CNN and Fox.
I have a lot of respect for Reverend Jackson, but he was
wrong, and I couldn’t justify his comments. I think that
what Barack said about black men that day needed to be
said. Barack was correct, Bill Cosby’s been correct. I
didn’t agree that Barack was talking down to blacks. And
you cannot use the N-word, when you’ve been protesting
its use. You must be consistent. Reverend Jackson was
dead wrong in this case, but that won’t be his legacy.
KW: In 1991, someone tried to
assassinate you because of your marching in Bensonhurst.
Why did you ask for clemency of the racist who tried to
kill you when if his knife had been an inch or so over,
you would have died on the spot?
Al Sharpton: My proposition was that this
young man was troubled, and that this young man should
be extended the same mercy that I ask for troubled
people in my own community. Yeah, he almost killed me.
It was the hardest thing in the world for me to ask for
clemency for him, but I did it because I was trying to
be consistent. It’s always interesting to me, that when
people recount my story, especially the white media,
they always bring up Tawana Brawley, they will rarely
bring up the fact that I forgave a white man for trying
to kill me. And I not only went to court and asked the
judge for clemency, but I visited him in jail. That
doesn’t fit the mainstream media’s stereotypical picture
of an angry black man who doesn’t like white folks.
KW: What’s it like to live your
life in the public eye 24/7, and to have constant
requests for help in terms of discrimination or
Al Sharpton: It becomes burdensome at times,
but it’s the life I’ve chosen. It’s what I felt I was
called to do, and I do it. I don’t think I could do
anything else. When I was younger, I was very close to
James Brown, and I tried for a time to be involved with
entertainment, but I couldn’t do it. People have to find
their passion in life, and social activism is my
passion. And I think in this era we need that kind of
force which will continue to expose what’s wrong so that
legislators will be challenged to change the laws. If
you don’t have that, the laws won’t change on their own.
Which is why people call us. Sean Bell’s 22 year-old
wife to be, Nicole, called us because she felt that we
would make the world know what happened. And we did,
because that’s what we do. Absent somebody dramatizing a
case and making it public, politicians are not going to
deal with it.
KW: You mentioned James Brown. When
I was a kid, I lived a couple of blocks from him in St.
Albans. Did you know him when he had that house on
Al Sharpton:No, I was a kid then, too. I
got to know him after he had already moved back to
Augusta, Georgia. I got close to him when his son,
Teddy, a student who had joined my national youth
movement in New York, was killed in a car accident.
KW: What would you say has been
your greatest accomplishment to date?
Al Sharpton: Being able, in this generation,
to build a consistent movement that has been effective
at raising public awareness about the remaining
inequities in society. No one can deny that we’ve been
successful in making racial profiling, police
misconduct, and now, education reform, national issues.
And without us, it wouldn’t have been that effective.
We’ve remained on the cutting edge of making the
conversation deal with the issues of inequality that had
been taken off the table. If the generation behind us
loses a dedication to raising public awareness, you will
end up going backwards in terms of racial progress.
KW: What do you think sank the Diallo case?
Al Sharpton: Once Johnnie Cochran was no
longer on the case, it is my belief that the PBA,
District Attorney Robert Johnson and others used that
period of time as an opening to abuse the law, to come
up with a scheme for the change of venue which I feel
led to an injustice for the Diallo family and the
community. I think that by the time the new attorneys
got in place, D.A. Johnson, the PBA and one of the
defendants’ attorneys, which was former Judge Burton
Roberts, they had already made their deal, and I believe
that that is what led to the injustice."
KW: How do you think an Obama
presidency might change race relations in America?
Al Sharpton: I think it could make things
better, but again, and you know Senator Obama and I have
a good relationship, there will still be those on the
outside pushing the envelope. I think it’s unfair to
have unrealistic expectations of Obama. As he always
says, “I’m going to need you all to raise issues to get
my attention,” because it’ll be competing with every
other constituency. He can’t look like he’s going to the
White House as a crusader for black people. So there
must be an ongoing movement for him to respond to. So I
think he’s the best choice for the country, but he’s by
no means a panacea.
KW: You ran for president just four
years ago. Were you surprised by Obama’s success at
landing the Democratic nomination?
Al Sharpton: Not at all. My campaign and his
were totally different. I ran in the tradition of a
Jesse Jackson, to raise issues. He ran to win, in the
tradition of an Ed Brooke or a Doug Wilder. We helped
change the tone. But you can’t compare our approaches. I
think we do different things that hopefully complement
KW: How do you feel about shaking
things up, but not necessarily sharing the spotlight in
Al Sharpton: We do it all the time. Believe
me, we fight a lot more cases than people hear about.
I’ll give you an example. When I went down to Georgia
for the Troy Davis case. I’d spoken about it for a year
on my syndicated radio show. They were the ones who
asked me to come out stronger on his behalf. Many times,
the victims want us to bring the spotlight, because they
can’t get any attention. Yet, people say, “Oh, there’s Sharpton out there again,” but that’s the point. Nobody
calls you in to hide their issue. The publicity is
exactly what they want. The point is, there have been a
lot of other victims. The question is, why haven’t we
heard about them? And if the National Action Network has
created the infrastructure to get the spotlight, then
why are you begrudging us that, unless you don’t really
want those issues exposed, or unless you’re envious and
you want the spotlight yourself. In that case, you
should do the work. Believe me, the end of the work is
KW: Did you feel that the Clinton
campaign started “racializing” the campaign in January
when they tried to pigeonhole Obama as the black
Al Sharpton: Absolutely. I think it was very
subtle on some levels, and very blatant on others. And I
very publicly criticized it at the time.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are
you ever afraid?
Al Sharpton: No. When I came
to terms with
death in ‘91, I got passed fear. The only thing I fear
now is that we won’t get all the work done before I die.
I’m not afraid to die. I’m going to die. Death is
certain. Living is uncertain. Once you have a close
brush with death, you make up your mind. I could’ve
walked away then to build a big church, and still had my
place in history. But I believe in what I’m doing, and
I’ve come to terms with the fact that it might cost me
my life, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
KW: The Columbus Short question:
Are you happy?
Al Sharpton: As happy as I could be!
KW: Bookworm Troy Johnson’s
question: What was the last book you read?
Al Sharpton: In fact, I’m reading a book
right now by Jonathan Rieder called The Word of the Lord
Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. I would highly recommend it because the
author is very good.
KW: Is there a question no one ever
asks you, that you wish someone would?
Al Sharpton: No, I’ve been asked just about
everything I need to be asked.
KW: The music maven Heather
Covington question: What’s music are you listening to
Al Sharpton: I listen to Gospel and a lot of
R&B. On my iPod there’s a lot of James Brown and Gospel.
I love the song “I Never Would Have Made It.”
KW: How long are you going to keep
Al Sharpton: As long as I live. That’s part
of my personal bond with James Brown. You know James
asked me to do that.
KW: Have you
ever seen that duet of James Brown with Pavarotti doing
"It’s a Man’s World"?
Al Sharpton: Yeah, I remember when he did
it. It was very moving.
KW: You lost a lot of weight
fasting while serving three months in jail for civil
disobedience on Vieques, and kept it off.
Al Sharpton: Yes, and that was another
victory. You know, we did close that U.S. Naval base in
KW: How do you feel about
Congressman Rangel’s recent legal woes?
Al Sharpton: Clearly he has some things to
correct, but I thought it was overblown. Come on, the
kind of attention the press paid to that over what were
relatively small amounts of money, you have read a
political agenda into it.
KW: How do you want to be
Al Sharpton: I want to be remembered as the
guy in his generation who helped keep the social justice
movement going. I will not sit in the chamber of power,
but be the person on the outside challenging the system.
Somebody has to play that role in every generation, and
I want to be remembered as being comfortable playing
that role in mine.
KW: Well, thanks again for the
time, Reverend Al. No justice, no peace.
Al Sharpton: Take care, man, Bye-bye.
posted 2 October 2008
* * *
Michael Eric Dyson to President Obama /
Michael Eric Dyson: To The Young & Disillusioned
Michael Eric Dyson: Obama isn't Moses, he is Pharaoh
Smiley and West: Obama & Sharpton
* * *
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to
promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of
Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * * * *
Allah, Liberty, and Love
The Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom
By Irshad Manji
In Allah, Liberty and Love, Irshad Manji paves a path for Muslims and non-Muslims to transcend the fears that stop so many of us from living with honest-to-God integrity: the fear of offending others in a multicultural world as well as the fear of questioning our own communities. Since publishing her international bestseller, The Trouble with Islam Today, Manji has moved from anger to aspiration. She shows how any of us can reconcile faith with freedom and thus discover the Allah of liberty and love—the universal God that loves us enough to give us choices and the capacity to make them. Among the most visible Muslim reformers of our era, Manji draws on her experience in the trenches to share stories that are deeply poignant, frequently funny and always revealing about these morally confused times.
prevents young Muslims, even in the West, from
expressing their need for religious
reinterpretation? What scares non-Muslims about
openly supporting liberal voices within Islam? How
did we get into the mess of tolerating intolerable
customs, such as honor killings, and how do we change that noxious status quo?
* * * * *
So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman
If the nation’s gross national income—over $14 trillion—were divided evenly across the entire U.S. population, every household could call itself middle class. Yet the income-level disparity in this country is now wider than at any point since the Great Depression. In 2010 the average salary for CEOs on the S&P 500 was over $1 million—climbing to over $11 million when all forms of compensation are accounted for—while the current median household income for African Americans is just over $32,000. How can some be so rich, while others are so poor? In this provocative book, Peter Edelman, a former top aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and a lifelong antipoverty advocate, offers an informed analysis of how this country can be so wealthy yet have a steadily growing number of unemployed and working poor. According to Edelman, we have taken important positive steps without which 25 to 30 million more people would be poor, but poverty fluctuates with the business cycle.
The structure of today’s economy has stultified wage
growth for half of America’s workers—with even worse
results at the bottom and for people of color—while bestowing billions on those at the top. So Rich, So Poor delves into what is happening to the people behind the statistics and takes a particular look at the continuing crisis of young people of color, whose possibility of a productive life too often is lost on their way to adulthood.—
* * * * *
It's The Middle Class Stupid!
By James Carville
and Stan Greenberg
It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
confirms what we have all suspected:
Washington and Wall Street have really
screwed things up for the average
American. Work has been devalued.
Education costs are out of sight. Effort
and ambition have never been so scantily
rewarded. Political guru James Carville
and pollster extraordinaire Stan
Greenberg argue that our political
parties must admit their failures and
the electorate must reclaim its voice,
because taking on the wealthy and the
privileged is not class warfare—it is a
matter of survival. Told in the
alternating voices of these two top
It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
provides eye-opening and provocative
arguments on where our
government—including the White House—has
gone wrong, and what voters can do about
Controversial and outspoken,
authoritative and shrewd,
It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
is destined to make waves during the
2012 presidential campaign, and will set
the agenda for legislative battles and
political dust-ups during the next
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
update 14 July 2012