How Al Sharpton Abandoned Africa’s Slaves
The eminent African-American economist Glenn Loury recently wondered in the New York Times why leading Democrats would defend Al Sharpton, a man who is a blatant anti-Semite, an anti-white racist, and to many, a simple con man. Joe Biden calls him “a champion in the fight for civil rights.” Elizabeth Warren says “he has dedicated his life to the fight for justice for all,” and Kamala Harris lauds him as a man who “has spent his life fighting for what’s right.” Records show that President Obama had Sharpton visit his White House 118 times.
This, after Sharpton’s many outrages: the Tawana Brawley rape hoax of 1987, the anti-Jewish Crown Heights riots of 1991, and the firebombing of a Jewish-owned Harlem fashion boutique in 1995.
Loury suggests that any one of these things should have disqualified Sharpton from national platforms, along with any praise by Democratic Party leaders. But there’s something else, something no less repugnant, and perhaps even more shocking, that should obliterate once and for all the perception of Al Sharpton as a tough guy who never buckles when it comes to defending his race.
Al Sharpton is betraying black people currently enslaved in Africa. He went there. He spoke to them. He promised the slaves he met that he would awaken American blacks to their plight, but then he abandoned them. He abandoned them, I believe, because they are enslaved by Arab Muslims. A review of just how this came about should be instructive.
In 2001, as Sharpton contemplated a run for president in the 2004 election, he made a trip to Sudan to verify reports of the ongoing enslavement of Christian blacks there by Arab Muslims. Reports were emerging of Arabs from northern Sudan raiding black Christian villages in the south of Africa’s then-largest country, killing the men and enslaving the women and children. (Full disclosure: At the time, I headed a movement to educate the public about modern-day slavery. We worked with the human rights organization Christian Solidarity International, which over the years redeemed tens of thousands of slaves in Sudan who were returned to their villages.)
To be fair, Sharpton’s 2001 trip to Sudan required courage. He flew with CSI leaders into a war zone on one of CSI’s regular slave redemption missions to see and talk to the slaves. The mission was protected by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a black militia defending southern villages against an onslaught that had over the years killed millions and enslaved tens of thousands, an onslaught that the Islamist rulers in Khartoum designated a jihad. Sharpton was appalled. He said it was “outrageous that no nationally known civil rights group has gone over to Africa to criticize what is happening there.” He met with slave women, who showed him their scars from being beaten and raped. One asked him if the world knew of her people’s suffering; Sharpton replied, “They don’t know now, but they will soon.”
There was speculation that Sharpton not only used this trip to launch his presidential campaign, but also to climb to the top ranks of black American leadership. Indeed, he took a subtle shot at Jesse Jackson, who had been silent about slavery in Sudan for years.
When Sharpton returned from Sudan he met with senior members of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Farrakhan had been vigorously denying that Arabs were enslaving blacks. His mission is to convince American blacks that Islam is the path to authentic freedom; it would be damaged by living and breathing proof that blacks are enslaved and slaughtered in African countries like Sudan where Islam dominates. Equally damaging for Farrakhan is the case of Mauritania, where black Muslims, who had been converted to Islam centuries ago, are nevertheless enslaved by Muslim Arab-Berbers.
Indeed, the mounting reports of Arab Muslims owning, breeding, and torturing black Muslims with impunity may have pushed Farrakhan into an unforced error: As reported by the New York Times, when he was cornered at a televised press conference and pressed by a reporter about his silence on the current enslavement of blacks, Louis Farrakhan grew visibly angry and challenged the gathered reporters. “If slavery exists,” he shouted, “why don’t you go, as a member of the press?! And you look inside of the Sudan, and if you find it, then you come back, and tell the American people what you have found!” The editors of the Baltimore Sun took him up on his challenge and sent two reporters to Sudan, where the reporters personally purchased the freedom of two black Christian slave boys. Three months later, the Sun published a Pulitzer Prize-nominated account of their trip. Clarence Page, the Chicago Tribune’s black editorialist, who had written about a billion-dollar “loan” to Farrakhan by Libyan dictator Qaddafi for purposes of fomenting a revolt among black soldiers in the U.S. armed forces, now taunted Farrakhan to respond to the Sun report. But the leader of the Nation of Islam fell silent.
One can imagine Sharpton, upon his return from the slave liberation trip in Sudan, being read the riot act by the Farrakhaners: “You want to divide the black community?!” In any event, Sharpton reneged on his promise to the freed slave woman that he would make sure black Americans learned about the plight of her people.
In 2017, after ignoring Africa’s slaves for many years, Sharpton returned to the issue. The occasion was a CNN report on Arabs in Libya capturing and selling Africans as slaves which featured a video of an auction where a man was sold for $400. This raised eyebrows in the black community, and Sharpton announced his decision to lead a delegation of black clergy to Libya to learn more about the slave trade there. For whatever reason, Sharpton never actually went to Libya, but he did meet with Libya’s U.N. ambassador Elmahdi Elmajerbi to discuss the problem -- and made sure to get the photo-op. Just as with his trip to Sudan, however, Sharpton’s ire quickly faded and once again the slaves went down the memory hole.
Today, in five Arab and Muslim African countries -- Sudan, Mauritania, Libya, Nigeria, and Algeria -- blacks are enslaved. These are known realities, easily documented.
Sharpton and Farrakhan have ignored or denied the current-day plight of black people who are taken as slaves They do so for two primary reasons; first, so as not to denigrate Islam, and secondly, to keep “America’s racism” a singular and unique focus, the benefits of which would be lost to them if blacks here knew that today, sadly, in some parts of the Islamic world, African men, women, and children are still in bondage, captured, bought, and sold as chattel.
Al Sharpton had the chance to marshal the power of America’s black community to help free today’s slaves. That black power, political and moral, has been won with courage, persistence, and volumes of blood. It is evoked in the example of Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave who went back into the South to bring more of her people to freedom. She explained, “I have heard their groans and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.” Al Sharpton heard the groans of enslaved black Africans, saw their tears, and then, seeing the way the wind was blowing, ran away.
Charles Jacobs is president of the American Anti-Slavery Group.