Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Sunday, February 25, 2007
Family ties
Rev. Al Sharpton got the shock of his life last week when he learned that his great-grandfather was owned by a relation of none other than long-time segregation stalwart Strom Thurmond. Who'd have thunk it... There will be a press conference tomorrow, and the Rev. will be at our station broadcasting his show tomorrow afternoon. Hopefully we'll get a chance to talk with him on the morning show before that. Here's the story from the NYDN:
It is a history linked in the degradation and cruelty of the slave trade in the South - a history that Sharpton himself was totally unaware of until this week.

The journey into the past began after the Daily News gave him the opportunity to explore his family's history with the help of a team of experts from - a company that has archived more than 5 billion documents around the world and has 55 million additional pieces of data dedicated to African-American ancestry.

In a series of numbing revelations, Sharpton learned how:

His great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave in South Carolina.

Coleman Sharpton, a woman and two children - believed by genealogists to be his wife and kids - were given as a gift to Julia Thurmond, and were forced to move to Florida.

Julia Thurmond's grandfather is Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather.

Once freed, Coleman Sharpton earned a living as an elderly wood hauler, and fathered a son, Coleman Jr., who would go on to be a minister - like his grandson, the Rev. Al. ...

... For the better part of two weeks, a team of genealogists - led by Megan Smolenyak, an ancestry scholar who has written four books and was the lead researcher for the PBS "Ancestors" series - unpeeled the layers of Sharpton's family tree.

They unearthed historic documents, including an 1861 slave contract that confirmed that Coleman Sharpton was indeed sent from Edgefield County, S.C., to Liberty County, Fla., where he would work until given his freedom at the end of the Civil War.

They found incontrovertible data that the woman who owned Sharpton's great-grandfather was related to Sen. Thurmond, a champion of segregation.
A bit more:
Smolenyak explained how Alexander Sharpton's son Jefferson Sharpton, died broke in 1860, leaving his family in debt.

Smolenyak said Alexander Sharpton, a wealthy slave owner, wanted to help out his son's widow.

"The document we found was known as an indenture," Smolenyak said. "It shows that Jefferson Sharpton died in debt and he had no will. His father [Alexander Sharpton] steps in to help the family."

The original copy of the indenture, which sits in the Liberty County Courthouse in Florida, reads:

"Describes negro to wit, Coleman, age 25 years, Biddy (female) age 22 years old, Harrison aged about 4 years and Bachus aged about 8 years," it states.

"Together with the future increase of the said female slave."

Sharpton stared at the image, carefully reading each word to himself.

"You know for real that you are three generations away from slavery," Sharpton would later remark.

Smolenyak said the indenture awarded Coleman and three others to the grandchildren - but placed them in the temporary custody of another relative in Florida, who was to put Coleman and the others to work to pay off the deceased son's debts. ...

... Smolenyak then told Sharpton how she delved into the family tree of the mother of the four children.

"Their mother was a Thurmond," Smolenyak said. "Julia Ann Thurmond." ...

... "Julia Thurmond Sharpton's grandfather and Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather, William Thurmond, are the same man," Smolenyak explained. "Julia Thurmond Sharpton is Strom Thurmond's first cousin twice removed."

"It's chilling," Sharpton said. "It's amazing."
Kind of makes you take a second look at the notion of reparations, knowing that slavery is not some distant past. For many African-Americans over aged 50 or so, it can be as close as a great-grandfather.

The Daily News also records the stunned reactions of Stromond's relatives, who probably are checking with their attorneys right about now to make sure that reparations thing can't get reeeeeal personal.

And we thought Strom's Black daughter, which he knew he had -- and financially supported -- even while he was spouting racist and segregationist views, was a shocker.

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