- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton is a descendant of a slave owned by relatives of the late Strom Thurmond — a discovery the civil rights activist called “shocking.”

Mr. Sharpton learned of his connection to Mr. Thurmond, once a prominent defender of segregation, last week through the Daily News, which asked genealogists to trace his roots.

“It was probably the most shocking thing in my life,” Mr. Sharpton said at a press conference yesterday, the same day the tabloid published the story.

Some of Mr. Thurmond’s relatives said the nexus also came as a surprise to them. Doris Strom Costner, a distant cousin who said she knew the former senator from South Carolina all her life, said yesterday that she “never heard of such a thing.”

“My momma never would talk to me about nothing like that,” Mrs. Costner said of ancestors who owned slaves. “She only talked to me about good things.”

The revelations surfaced after Ancestry.com contacted a Daily News reporter who agreed to have his own family tree traced. The intrigued reporter then asked Mr. Sharpton whether he wanted to participate. Mr. Sharpton 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.

They found that Mr. Sharpton’s great-grandfather Coleman Sharpton was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Mr. Thurmond’s great-great-grandfather. Coleman Sharpton was later freed.

Mr. Thurmond campaigned for president in 1948 on a platform that promised to preserve segregation. In 1957, he filibustered for more than 24 hours against a civil rights bill.

Mr. Sharpton, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, said he met Mr. Thurmond only once, in 1991, when he visited Washington with soul singer James Brown, who knew Mr. Thurmond. Mr. Sharpton said the meeting was “awkward.”

“I was not happy to meet him because what he had done all his life,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Mr. Thurmond died in 2003, at 100. The long-serving senator was originally a Democrat but became a Republican in 1964.

Mr. Thurmond’s children have acknowledged that Mr. Thurmond fathered a biracial daughter. Essie Mae Washington-Williams’ mother was a housekeeper in the home of Mr. Thurmond’s parents.

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