In 2004, he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. presidential election. He hosts his own radio talk show, Keepin' It Real, and he makes regular guest appearances on Fox News (such as on The O'Reilly Factor), CNN, and MSNBC. In 2011, he was named the host of MSNBC's PoliticsNation, a nightly talk show.
Sharpton's supporters praise "his ability and willingness to defy the power structure that is seen as the cause of their suffering" and consider him "a man who is willing to tell it like it is". Former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a one-time foe, said that Sharpton deserves the respect he enjoys among Black Americans: "He is willing to go to jail for them, and he is there when they need him."
His critics describe him as "a political radical who is to blame, in part, for the deterioration of race relations". Sociologist Orlando Patterson has referred to him as a racial arsonist, while liberal columnist Derrick Z. Jackson has called him the black equivalent of Richard Nixon and Pat Robertson. Sharpton sees much of the criticism as a sign of his effectiveness. "In many ways, what they consider criticism is complimenting my job," he said. "An activist's job is to make public civil rights issues until there can be a climate for change."
|“||What I do functionally is what Dr. King, Reverend Jackson and the movement are all about; but I learned manhood from James Brown. I always say that James Brown taught me how to be a man.||”|
In 1963 Sharpton's father left his wife to have a relationship with Al Sharpton's half-sister. Ada Sharpton took a job as a maid, but her income was so low that the family qualified for welfare and had to move from middle class Hollis, Queens, to the public housing projects in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Sharpton graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn, and attended Brooklyn College, dropping out after two years in 1975. He became a tour manager for James Brown in 1973.
In 1971 Sharpton founded the National Youth Movement to raise resources for impoverished youth.
Bernhard Goetz shot four African-American men on a New York subway train on December 22, 1984, when they approached him and allegedly tried to rob him. At his trial Goetz was cleared of all charges except criminal possession of a weapon. Sharpton led several marches protesting what he saw as the weak prosecution of the case.
Sharpton and other civil rights leaders said Goetz's actions were racist and requested a federal civil rights investigation. A federal investigation concluded the shooting was due to an attempted robbery and not race.
On December 20, 1986 three African-American men were assaulted in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens by a mob of white men. The three men were chased by their attackers onto the Belt Parkway, where one of them, Michael Griffith, was struck and killed by a passing motorist.
A week later, on December 27, Sharpton led 1,200 demonstrators on a march through the streets of Howard Beach. Residents of the neighborhood, who were overwhelmingly white, screamed racial epithets at the protesters, who were largely black. A special prosecutor was appointed by New York Governor Mario Cuomo after the two surviving victims refused to co-operate with the Queens district attorney. Sharpton's role in the case helped propel him to national prominence.
In the weeks following the assault and murder, Sharpton led several marches through Bensonhurst. The first protest, just days after the incident, was greeted by neighborhood residents shouting "Niggers go home" and holding watermelons to mock the demonstrators.
Sharpton also threatened that Hawkins' three companions would not cooperate with prosecutor Elizabeth Holtzman unless her office agreed to hire more black attorneys. In the end, they cooperated.
In May 1990 when one of the two leaders of the mob was acquitted of the most serious charges brought against him, Sharpton led another protest through Bensonhurst. In January 1991, when other members of the gang were given light sentences, Sharpton planned another march for January 12, 1991. Before that demonstration began, neighborhood resident Michael Riccardi tried to kill Sharpton by stabbing him in the chest. Sharpton recovered from his wounds, and later asked the judge for leniency when Riccardi was sentenced.