Sharpton-Thurmond Link Causes Stir in News Media

The recent discovery by Ancestry and the New York Daily News that Al Sharpton’s great-grandfather was a slave owned by a relative of the late Strom Thurmond has captured the interest of the news media. Below is the press release regarding the revelations and you can find links to more press coverage on The Generations Network website.

New York Daily News and Trace Reverend Al Sharpton’s Roots to Ancestors of the Late Senator Strom Thurmond

Rev. Sharpton’s Family Tree Reveals Legacy of Strength, Survival and Triumph Over Slavery

NEW YORK, Feb. 25 /PRNewswire/ — Today the Reverend Al Sharpton joined New York Daily News reporter Austin Fenner and Mike Ward of to announce the first of a series of unique, collaborative stories detailing how Rev. Sharpton’s family history intersects with another family line — that of the late segregationist Senator, Strom Thurmond.

Genealogical detectives from were able to trace the lineage of the Reverend Sharpton to his great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, a slave in 1835 Edgefield County, South Carolina. Coleman Sharpton was sent to South Carolina and hired out to work off the “debts of the estate” of Julia Thurmond Sharpton.

“When the Daily News first reached out to me for this story, I was very excited at the prospect of discovering my family roots — but I never expected this,” said the Rev. Sharpton, one of America’s foremost and outspoken leaders for civil rights. “When walked me through my family history, it was chilling to see proof that I am only three generations from slavery — it’s no longer speculation.”

Rev. Sharpton added, “Who would have imagined that I would have anything in common with Strom Thurmond, let alone share roots?”

In conjunction with Black History Month, released the largest collection of African-American family history records available online. After reviewing the collection with Daily News reporter Austin Fenner, he offered to approach Rev. Sharpton, whom he has covered for years, to see if he would be interested in discovering more about his family history. The Reverend agreed to participate.

Megan Smolenyak, the Chief Family Historian for, soon discovered a strong paper trail proving that Rev. Sharpton and Strom Thurmond’s histories intersect immediately prior to the Civil War.

“The Reverend’s reaction to his own history is a powerful example of what families are discovering everyday now that priceless historical records are increasingly and easily accessible online,” said Ms. Smolenyak. “We’re grateful that the Reverend agreed to take this journey and that the discoveries absolutely exceeded all our expectations. When I spotted a Thurmond in the family tree I suspected there might be a relationship, but I could never had imagined just how closely their families were connected.”

“After seeing what is now possible for African-Americans in terms of searching online, I couldn’t resist the idea of approaching the Reverend regarding his roots,” said Mr. Fenner. “ quickly began unearthing incredible clues that turned into an amazing paper trail. After sending our photographers to South Carolina, history truly came alive, as you’ll see in our stories over the next week. The fun of family history collided with reporting and proved to be a terrific match. Unlocking a door to history with Reverend Sharpton has been enlightening for all of us.”

The “Paper Trail”

An 1861 indenture documented that Coleman Sharpton, Rev. Sharpton’s great- grandfather, worked on behalf of four Sharpton children to pay off the debts of their father’s estate. Their mother, Julia Thurmond Sharpton, was Strom Thurmond’s first cousin twice removed.

“When studying genealogy of formerly enslaved African-Americans, identifying and researching the roots of the white slave owner is essential to trace the enslaved family’s history backwards into time,” said Tony Burroughs, leading African-American family historian and author of Black Roots: A Beginners Guide to Tracing the African-American Family Tree. “The Reverend’s family history is proof that records for African-Americans do exist and that tracing black family roots can be done. This is a powerful set of discoveries that offers invaluable insight into not only Rev. Sharpton’s ancestry, but also American history.”

The Thurmond connection only scratched the surface of Rev. Sharpton’s riveting family story. His roots revealed a legacy of strength and survival from slavery and the Civil War era to post-emancipation and beyond.

The Reverend’s Link to the “Godfather of Soul”

The U.S. Federal Census documents available on provided the link connecting Rev. Sharpton to the roots of James Brown. According to the 1910 U.S. Census, Rev. Sharpton’s paternal grandfather, Coleman Jr., worked as a turpentine chipper in Georgia as did Brown’s own father. At age 65, Coleman Sr. is still working hard as a “wood hauler” in Oak Grove, Liberty County, Florida in the 1900 Census. In addition, Rev. Sharpton discovered a legacy of ministers that goes back two generations.’s newly expanded African-American Historical Records Collection features more than 55 million black family history records such as U.S. Colored Troops service records, Freedmen’s Bureau records and the complete U.S. Federal Census Collection (1790 – 1930), which is now searchable with a new, special filter that identifies African-American entries, regardless of their description in the census such as “colored,” “Negro,” “black,” “mulatto” or other variations.

Visit this month for three-day free access to explore the African-American Historical Records Collection.

About New York Daily News

The Daily News is the largest and most widely read newspaper in New York City and the New York metropolitan market, the sixth largest daily newspaper and fifth largest Sunday newspaper in the country. The Daily News continues to lead all other newspapers as the paper of choice for New York City and borough residents. Average daily readership for the Daily News tops 2,482,000, with Sunday readership reaching 2,724,300. For more information visit


With more than 5 billion names and 23,000 searchable databases and titles, is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch in 1997, has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. receives more than 4 million unique site visitors and 295 million page views each month.

Photo: NewsCom:
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CONTACT: Jennifer Mauer, Communications Director of New York Daily News,
Office, +1-212-210-6379, or Cell, +1-646-761-8923, or;
or Tola St. Matthew-Daniel of Coltrin & Associates for, Office,
+1-212-221-1616, ext. 101, or Cell, +1-267-968-5359, or Fax, +1-212-221-7718,
or; or Rachel Noerdlinger, Director of Communications of
Reverend Al Sharpton Media, Office, +1-212-876-5444, or Cell, +1-347-622-8670,
or; or Sid M. Dinsay of Dan Klores Communications,
+1-917-370-8631, or


2 thoughts on “Sharpton-Thurmond Link Causes Stir in News Media

  1. I have long sympathized with the African American difficulty in researching their ancestry. It’s wonderful that so many records are now being made available for them.

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