From The Outside To The Inside: How Obama Helped Al Sharpton Become DNC’s #1 Agent To Black America

From The Outside To The Inside: How Obama Helped Al Sharpton Become DNC’s #1 Agent To Black America


President Barack Obama (L) and Rev. Al Sharpton, Mic screenshot

President Barack Obama and Reverend Al Sharpton might have first seemed like an unlikely pairing in U.S. politics. President Obama, known for his cautious and measured approach, largely avoided overt discussions of race during his early presidency. In contrast, Sharpton built his career as an outspoken civil rights activist.

Despite their differences, Obama and Sharpton formed a symbiotic relationship that has proven politically advantageous. In one instance, the two appeared together when President Obama delivered a speech in 2014 at the National Action Network (NAN), a civil rights group founded by Sharpton in 1991. This marked Obama’s second address to the group, having previously spoken in 2011.

For Obama, utilizing Sharpton’s platform ensures his messages reach African-American audiences through Sharpton’s nationally syndicated radio show and MSNBC appearances. For Sharpton, the collaboration signifies his transformation from an outside agitator to an influential insider, NPR reported.

“It’s a validation of the importance of the organization and its leader,” Ben Jealous, former NAACP leader, told It’s All Politics. “Rev. Sharpton has proven himself the most consistently evolving, populist leader in our country. He has throughout the decades gained the respect and trust of more and more people in our country and has become a figure who more and more people across the spectrum understand has to be reckoned with.”

The Obama-Sharpton alliance traces back to 2007 when Obama’s campaign faced challenges securing the Black vote. At the time, Hillary Clinton was actively courting African-American leaders, and Jesse Jackson had criticized Obama for his silence on the controversial Jena Six case in Louisiana. The Jena Six were six Black teenagers in Jena, Louisiana, convicted in the 2006 beating of a white student at the local Jena High School. Many cited the case as an example of racial injustice. Jackson complained Obama had not adequately weighed in and was “acting like he’s white,” adding that “if I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena,” The National Review reported.

Seeking a credible voice within the civil rights community, Obama’s team, led by Valerie Jarrett, turned to Sharpton.

A series of meetings between Jarrett and Sharpton helped solidify this relationship. By aligning with Sharpton, Obama distanced himself from more controversial figures like Jackson and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This move not only bolstered his campaign but also transformed Sharpton into a key White House ally, particularly during times of heightened racial tension and debates over policing.

President Barack Obama (L) and Rev. Al Sharpton, Mic screenshot, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1366717006684419