Posted June 19, 2008 – The Rev. Al Sharpton, who’s fighting accusations that he’s been “shaking down” corporate America , isn’t the first civil rights leader to be accused of extorting money from businesses.
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To city officials in Montgomery in 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King’s boycott of the bus system – which lasted some 381 days and cost the transit company a whopping $750,000 – was nothing short of a shakedown by a trouble-making Black leader. The goal of King and other leaders was to end the longstanding practice of forcing Blacks to sit on the back of the bus and even give up their seats to White patrons.
The NAACP, the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights group, has called more boycotts for discrimination and racial injustice perhaps than any other organization in history; it also has its fair share of haters, who say the group merely tries to leverage donations. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is another regular critic of those who say he’s been shaking down major oil companies by demanding that people boycott them until there is greater African-American representation in their corporate boardrooms and gun manufacturers until they stop peddling weapons in Black communities.
Now Sharpton is being accused of threatening racial boycotts against such entities as General Motors, Anheuser-Busch, Colgate Palmolive and the DaimlerChrysler Chicago car show. In most cases the issue was poor minority representation. He picketed DaimlerChrysler in 2003 and threatened a boycott alleging racial bias in car loans. Under a settlement agreement in 2005 of a major class-action lawsuit, according to court documents, the auto company contributed $1.8 million toward non-profit public and civil rights groups to educate consumers. Some anti-Sharpton bloggers have reported that DaimlerChrysler began supporting the minister’s National Action Network conferences; it is unclear how much, if anything, the network received. However, as Robert Farago blogged Friday, Anheuser-Busch and Colgate Palmolive, among others, have given tens of thousands to the network in recent years.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, The New York Post reported earlier this week, is looking into accusations that Sharpton is illegally pressuring companies to grease his organization’s palms. The IRS is also investigating Sharpton’s group. Two years ago, the network reported taking in $1.1 million in contributions, all of which went toward operating expenses. The feds say the group owes $1.9 in payroll taxes, according to the Post. Sharpton says he and his organization continue to cooperate with authorities
But Sharpton supporters argue that there are forces who would love to discredit and ultimately silence the Harlem-based activist, who keeps a spotlight on voting rights, racial discrimination, police brutality and several other concerns affecting poor people.
And the Rev. dismisses as ridiculous any notion that he’s been bribing businesses.
"That's the old shakedown theory that the anti-civil-rights forces have used against us forever," he told the Post. "Why can't they come up with one company that says that? No one has criticized me."
Sharpton might have a point, because despite all of the barbs hurled at him, even some of his alleged critics, such as auto giant General Motors, have called the National Action Network a reputable and worthy organization, as Farago acknowledges in his blog.
What do you think? Is he following the tradition of his civil rights predecessors, or is there something wrong with his tactics? Click "Discuss Now," on the upper right, to post your comment.