Sharpton: A Leader with Followers — and Critics

Rev. Al Sharpton shook hands with former President Jimmy Carter at a memorial service. i i

Rev. Al Sharpton shook hands with former President Jimmy Carter at a memorial service for Coretta Scott King in February. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Rev. Al Sharpton shook hands with former President Jimmy Carter at a memorial service.

Rev. Al Sharpton shook hands with former President Jimmy Carter at a memorial service for Coretta Scott King in February.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Bonus Audio

Rev. Sharpton asks, and answers, questions:

Asked if he is a national leader, Rev. Al Sharpton says, "I think that a leader is anyone with a following." And citing his political and organizational followers, he added, "In that context, I guess I am."

Sharpton, a high-profile figure who straddles the world of politics and religion, is an authority on African-American leadership. As an advocate for human rights and equality, he has marched alongside Rev. Jesse Jackson, as he did recently in New Orleans.

But Sharpton is also known — and criticized — for his flamboyance. His detractors say he uses civil rights to promote his own interests.

Recently, some of that criticism came from NPR's Juan Williams, who earlier this week accused Sharpton of posturing and using the civil rights legacy for his personal gain.

It's not a new phenomenon for civil rights leaders to be attacked, according to Sharpton. He cites Carl Rowan's denunciation of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barbara Reynolds' 1975 biography of Rev. Jesse Jackson, as examples.

"Most civil rights leaders are never given credit until they're dead," Sharpton says.

For his part, Sharpton says commentators and pundits have their own agenda: to sell books.

When asked about his legacy, Sharpton launches into one of the effusive answers that will certainly be a part of it.

"They cannot say I was a perfect man, they cannot say that I was a flawless man. They may not even say I was a good man," he says.

"But they can say, 'He was on the battlefield. He fought in his day, in his generation. And those that were before him, he tried to live up to their expectations.'"

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