Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson have had a complex relationship that sometimes resulted in the two men bumping heads over who would lead the black community. Unlike Jackson, Sharpton doesn’t have an organic connection to the civil rights movement through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but Sharpton made a name for himself in New York and used that reputation to catapult himself to prominence.
Nowhere is Sharpton’s prominence more evident than in Ferguson, where Sharpton was the featured speaker at a church rally this past Sunday. Since Rev. Jesse Jackson is also in Ferguson, some are wondering whether this means Sharpton has finally overtaken Jackson as the go-to leader in the community.
In a new feature for POLITICO magazine that looks at how Sharpton went from a protesting preacher to an MSNBC pundit, Sharpton opens up about overshadowing Rev. Jackson in Ferguson.
“I think he’s now realized that he’s older now … And he realizes that I’ve come into my own and he’s got to deal with it,” Sharpton said of Jackson. “[The relationship is] respectful but it’s clearly not protégé-mentor. I still admire what he did, I just think that things pass on. I’m going to pass on—everybody has their day.”
Sharpton also admits that he learned a lot from Rev. Jackson.
“I saw myself as a guy who learned from Jesse Jackson how to do national civil rights. I wasn’t really interested in who was going to be the next district leader in Brooklyn. My ambitions were always a lot bigger than what my critics thought my ability was.”
Sharpton is 59 years old, while Rev. Jackson is 72. For many, a 13 year difference in age is not enough of a gap to focus on, but in so far as Sharpton and Jackson go, it may as well be a lifetime between them.