It’s been more than 20 years since the black community activist led raucous street protests that turned violent and sensationalized a 15-yr.-old girl’s story of racial sexual assault that was ultimately rejected by a grand jury that suggested she made it up.
Today, the Rev. Al Sharpton is a different man, a more strategic and refined political fighter, a man President Obama recently visited to support his foundation’s fundraising event.
Lesley Stahl profiles the new Sharpton on “60 Minutes” this Sunday, may 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. (Please note we will also have an all-new broadcast at 7 p.m. ET/PT.)
“I’ve learned to pick my fights and also to be more strategic about my fight plan,” says Sharpton. “Doesn’t mean it’s not the same fight, but it means I’m a different and I’m a more seasoned fighter.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s not an agitator anymore. “Say refined agitator,” he tells Stahl.
Sharpton has broadened his advocacy, changing with the times to embrace causes that are more popular today than they were back in his brawling days. “A lot of positions I take now, no one would’ve thought I would’ve taken. who would have thought 20 years ago I’d be leading a march for immigration? Or that I would support same-sex marriage, which most black church people don’t,” he says. “So I think that a lot of people are stuck in time. Thankfully, I’m not,” says Sharpton.
But Sharpton is stuck in time in a sense. in 1987, he led protests over Tawana Brawley’s story of a gang rape by six white men – some members of law enforcement, she claimed – but still refuses to accept the grand jury’s finding. He charged a cover-up, led demonstrations against the findings and was eventually ordered by a court of law to pay restitution to some of those falsely accused.
Stahl asks why he’s never apologized to the falsely accused men. “I’ll be honest with you. I have thought about that a million times. I just don’t believe they treated that case fair,” says Sharpton. Pressed by Stahl that anyone who knew he was part of a false accusation has the obligation to apologize for it, Sharpton replies, “I think you’re right. I think the operative word is: if you knew that. I don’t know that,” he tells Stahl.
Sharpton also talks about his childhood and, later, the pivotal moment when he reconciled with his father, who abandoned the family when he was young.