Sharpton’s family were slaves to Senator Thurmond’s family

Geneaologists have found that civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton is a descendent of a slave owned by relatives of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Daily News said professional genealogists, working at the newspaper’s behest, recently uncovered the ancestral ties between one of the nation’s best known black leaders and a man who was once a prominent defender of segregation.

“I have always wondered what was the background of my family,” the newspaper quoted Sharpton as saying. “But nothing — nothing — could prepare me for this.”

“It’s chilling. It’s amazing.”

Sharpton’s office said Sunday morning that he would not comment until a news conference planned for later in the day.

Some of Thurmond’s relatives said the connection also came as a surprise to them. A niece, Ellen Senter, said she would speak with Sharpton if he were interested.

“I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn’t own slaves,” said Senter, 61, of Columbia, S.C. She added: “And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was.”

One of the late senator’s sons, Paul Thurmond, and a nephew, Barry Bishop, declined comment, the Daily News said.

According to the newspaper, the genealogists found documents establishing that Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond’s great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed.

The newspaper said the lead researcher was Megan Smolenyak, the chief family historian for and an author of several published books on genealogy. Another researcher on the project was Tony Burroughs, who teaches genealogy at Chicago State University.

Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina, was once considered a symbol of segregation. During his 1948 bid for president, he promised to preserve racial segregation. In 1957, he filibustered for more than 24 hours against a civil rights bill.

But Thurmond was seen as softening his stance later in his long life. He died in 2003, at 100. The longest-serving senator in history, he was originally a Democrat but became a Republican in 1964.

His children have acknowledged that Thurmond fathered a biracial daughter. Essie Mae Washington-Williams’ mother was a housekeeper in the home of Thurmond’s parents.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


  1. Ah, yes the evil doings of our own ancesters seem to pop up everywhere. I have some doubts about my own father’s side of the family as my maiden name is McNabb. Yes indeed, the famous Donavan McNabb the quarterback could be my cousin. I watch his games and cheer him on! His mother tells us to eat good hot soup and I do it! Thank you Auntie!

    My mother’s side presents that my great grandfather had 9 wives. Yes, indeed, Parley Parker Pratt came from good breeding Mormons. Who cares?

    We are all the end results of our evolution. How and why we made it this far is unimportant…..we should celebrate the fact that we survived! Come on, open a beer and enjoy the day.

  2. I’m not as deeply involved in my genetic roots as you are SEAL. Basically, I am a Santa Monica beach bum, who fell into political actions. My reading formed my brain, not my ancestors. I was so shallow that the myth of God went in one ear and out the other. Left to my own resources, I managed to locate a moral code higher than any follower of any God. Right and wrong were clearly defined and everything else was just a cheap justification. It didn’t take me long to discover that far too many Christians used and abused their power over others.

  3. SEAL

    But, Sandy, I believe it makes a great deal of difference knowing your ancestory. It explains you to yourself. Especially when you have a complete contradiction in your ancestory like I have. One side Native American and the other European. Without the knowledge, many feelings and reactions I have would be confusing. Also, I benefit from the balance of the knowledge of history – true history.

    From my native nation I have the history of the midwestern US centuries before the invaders came. The first contact with Europeans in the 1500s when Coronada came north from Mexico and our reaction to that, which was to move away from it. And the impact of the invasion and how we, as a people, dealt with it. Unlike the other tribes we never went to war with them. Consequently our relationship with the US government has always been good and I don’t have the underlying hatred that so many other natives have. It helps for me to understand why.

    On the other hand I am keenly aware of the attrocities that were perpetrated upon us and the other nations in the name of the christian god. How we were deliberately infected with smallpox and our women and children were slaughtered and so on. But the European side gave me their comprehension of why these things were done. The misinformation that caused much of it. That balances my thinking and my feelings. Without it I fear that I would be very confused about my emotions.

  4. Joe Lawrence

    I’m old now, and not having as much fun as I had over the years, yet one simple thing keeps giving me the giggles. If any of you want to try it out, here’s how:

    1. Find any true-believing, anti-Darwinist who rails against common ancestry.

    2. Ask him/her whether they believe we are all, then, descended from Adam and Eve – if the term “all” is taken to mean, literally, all.

    3. (This is the fun part.) Enjoy the twisted logic, the invented ‘facts’ and the circular reasoning with which you will be presented.

    More on point, though, it is no more astounding to fnd that Sharpton is a descendant of a slave once owned by a Thurmond ancestor than it would be to find any one of us is somehow descended from anyone else.

    Once you get back further than, say, the great-greats, it ceases to be much of real interest – the DAR notwithstanding – and becomes a mere curiosity.

    My belief: My great-great uncle being a horse thief is no excuse for me to choose living my own life in any dishonorable fashion.

  5. LincolnDem

    I’m not sure what importance this “revelation” has. It is a given that most black Americans have slave ancestors, so the news that Sharpton has some is not even close to newsworthy. The fact that his particular ancestor was a slave to a relative of someone with a recognizable name is definitely in the “so what” category, if not the “no one cares” or “ho hum” categories. With respect to Sharpton, he is entitled to credit for not making anything of this news beyond the perfectly obvious observation that slavery is and was shameful.

    Some of my ancestors were slaves too, but they quit that role under the leadership of Moses. I am forever grateful that my people have always come to the fore in defending the civil rights of the more recent victims of slavery.

    Now, if only this and the other quasi-civilized nations would get together and put an end to slavery in the barbaric world (you know who I’m talking about), all of us could rejoice. Unfortunately, the barbarians are getting away with it and numerous other atrocities.

  6. …many if not all of the South’s premiere ruling aristocracy are substantially admixed with the dreaded blood of “the other”, including (but not limited to) the following;



    Locklear (yeah, that Locklear)









    “It is undoubtedly due to local memories of families like these that when, at the turn of the century, the one drop or “any amount whatsoever ascertainable” definition of “negro” was being adopted by a majority of the Southern states, the South Carolina Legislature in 1895 decided not to follow suit. During the discussion on the floor, one of the members pointed out that were such a law enforced, too many descendants of those who had served during the civil war would not be allowed to marry into white families of the same social standing they had long presumed themselves to be. The Legislature finally settled on one eighth or more of African ancestry as their definition of who was Negro. Prior to this decision, South Carolina as well as most other Southern states, had usually ruled in questions of racial identity that if an individual looked white and acted white then he or she was legally white. Virginia, for instance, would not adopt the “one drop” law until the 1920s.”

  7. “I doubt you can find many native South Carolinians today whose family, if you traced them back far enough, didn’t own slaves,”

    whatta typical crock of shit answer from a peckerwood apologist. In fact many of the most prominent upcountry (as opposed to the coastal planter class) South Carolina families were classified as COLORED (FPC) during the war of the Regulation… check it out yourself.

    More accurately you could say of native South Carolinians that, if one’s family has been in the region since the colonial era or earlier there is a STATISTICAL CERTAINTY that your family is infused with sub Saharan african ancestry! >gasp