Al Sharpton a relative of Strom Thurmond?


Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:59 p.m.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he wants a DNA test to determine whether he is related to former segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond through his great-grandfather, a slave owned by an ancestor of the late senator.
''I can't find out anything more shocking than I've already learned,'' Sharpton told the Daily News, which reported the link Sunday based on genealogists' findings.
Sharpton's spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger, confirmed Monday for The Associated Press that Sharpton, who learned about the connection last week, plans to pursue DNA testing. Noerdlinger had no further details.
Professional genealogists, who work for Ancestry.com, found 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.
''Based on the paper trail, it seems pretty evident that the connection is there,'' said Mike Ward, a genealogist with Ancestry.com.
The company's chief family genealogist, Megan Smolenyak, said Sharpton would need to match his DNA with a present-day descendant to see if they are biologically related.
''I think the odds are slim he would match,'' Smolenyak told the News.
The revelations surfaced after Ancestry.com contacted a Daily News reporter who agreed to have his own family tree done. The intrigued reporter then asked Sharpton if he wanted to participate. Sharpton, who ran for president in 2004 calling for racial equality, said he told the paper, ''Go for it.''
The genealogists, who were not paid by the newspaper, uncovered the ancestral ties using a variety of documents that included census, marriage and death records.
Thurmond, of South Carolina, was once considered an icon of racial segregation. During his 1948 bid for president he promised to preserve segregation, and in 1957 he filibustered for more than 24 hours against a civil rights bill.
Thurmond was seen as softening his stance later in his long life. He died in 2003, at 100. One of the longest-serving senators in history, he was originally a Democrat but became a Republican in 1964. His children have confirmed that he fathered a biracial daughter. Essie Mae Washington-Williams' mother was a housekeeper in the home of Thurmond's parents.
Washington-Williams' daughter, Wanda Terry, said her mother was not available for comment Monday. She said she and Washington-Williams were shocked when they learned of the Sharpton link.
''I said, 'Boy, the Thurmond family - this thing - the legs keep growing,''' Terry said.f-z Sharpton said he met Thurmond only once, when he visited Washington with the late James Brown, who knew Thurmond. Sharpton said the 1991 meeting was awkward.
''I was not happy to meet him because what he had done all his life,'' Sharpton said. Terry said Sharpton should try to make peace with the matter.
''We made our peace with ours,'' she said. ''My mother addressed that. She has a relationship with her family members and she's moved on. There's no animosity and there's no point in having all this resentment because it's not healthy and it's not doing anyone any good.''
Thurmond's 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,'' Senter, of Columbia, S.C., told the Daily News.
She added: ''And it is wonderful that (Sharpton) was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was.''f-z Associated Press Writer Katrina A. Goggins in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

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