Alfred “Al” Sharpton Jr. is a controversial Baptist minister known for decades of clashing with New York City's mayors over race issues, condemning the NYPD on charges of police brutality against minorities and leading pickets against media and businesses over controversial race-based comments.
Sharpton was born on October 3, 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. His silver tongue kicked in early, and Sharpton preached his first sermon at the age of four. He grew in prominence in the church, first ordained as a Pentecostal minister and later moving into the Baptist church.
Sharpton graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn. He was 15 when Jesse Jackson tapped him to head up an economic job development program, but Sharpton made his first splash into the news headlines years later in 1987 as the advocate for Tawana Brawley, a teenager from New York City who claimed to have been gang raped by a group of white men, including one police officer. Brawley's tale was ruled a fabrication in court, but Sharpton has not ceded his position.
Sharpton also spent a stint as a tour manager for James Brown, who cited Sharpton as one of his closest confidantes. Sharpton credits Brown with giving him his signature pompadour, which Brown reportedly made Sharpton promise never to change until after Brown's death. Sharpton also met his first wife, Kathy Jordan, as part of the tour, where she was a backup singer. The pair have two daughters together, Dominique and Ashley.
Sharpton survived an assasination attack in 1991 when a drunken man stabbed him in the chest before a protest in Brooklyn. Sharpton filed a lawsuit against the NYPD for failing to protect him. After more than a decade of litigation, the city reached a $200,000 settlement with Sharpton in 2003.
Sharpton has agitated on behalf of a host of African-American victims of violence, from black teenager Yusuf Hawkins, who was murdered while walking in a white section of Brooklyn, to Sean Bell, a Queens man killed in a fusillade of 50 police bullets by undercover NYPD officers on his wedding day.
Sharpton ran for elected office several times, including a failed bid for president in 2003. He is the president and founder of the National Action Network in Harlem, his base of operations.