Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

The Rev. Al Sharpton’s party got crashed this week when the Smoking Gun published—in a story conveniently timed to coincide with this week’s gathering of Sharpton’s National Action Network—official documents showing that going back to the ’80s, he went to work for the FBI as an informant against organized crime in New York.


It’s an embarrassment, no doubt, for the ubiquitous reverend, who told reporters on Tuesday, “I’m not a rat, I’m a cat … I chase rats.”

But while he’s had his share of dustups—including this one and going back to Crown Heights and Tawana Brawley—for decades now, there’s been no controversy big enough to knock Sharpton off his game for long.

From hosting his nationally syndicated radio show to holding down his own hour in MSNBC’s prime-time lineup—and from a quixotic 2004 presidential run of his own to hosting the first African-American president at the National Action Network’s annual convention on Friday—Sharpton is always in the mix and, for better or worse, remains the unofficial mayor of black America. Just look at this sampling of Rev. Al moments over the years and tell us we’re wrong.


Old-school Rev. Al became one of James Brown’s sanctified acolytes back in the 1970s when the Godfather of Soul became his mentor—and, clearly, his style guru.

Wikimedia Commons

Sharpton rose to national fame in the ’80s when he took up the cause of Michael Griffith and Yusuf Hawkins, young black men who were killed in the New York City neighborhoods of Howard Beach and Bensonhurst.

People magazine

Sharpton rose to national embarrassment when he took up the cause of alleged sexual assault victim Tawana Brawley in 1987 and her story turned out to be a hoax.

Saiko Amad Diallo (right), the father of Amadou Diallo, with Al Sharpton, March 31, 1999, in New York after hearing indictments against four police officers (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images) 

Over the years, Sharpton picked surer battles, like supporting the family of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant who was profiled, beaten and killed by New York City police officers in 1999.

Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre-Bell, at Sharpton's headquarters, March 19, 2007, in New York City (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images) 

Al Sharpton was also there for the fiancee of Sean Bell, who was killed by New York City undercover officers outside his bachelor party in Queens in 2006.

Sharpton with supporters during a media conference on the steps of City Hall Dec. 16, 2003, in New York City (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)  

In 2004 (was that really 10 years ago?), Al Sharpton ran for president.

Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry, Al Sharpton, Denis Kucinich and John Edwards at the Democratic debate, Feb. 29, 2004, in New York (Mary Altaffer/Getty Images)

None of these guys got to the White House, but Sen. John Edwards might want to rethink that finger in Sharpton’s face.

Sharpton outside the Guaynabo Federal Detention Center Aug. 30, 2001, in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

But Al Sharpton never stopped agitating. Over the years, there’s been no one better to amplify a cause—even if you’re protesting the military in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Al Sharpton with two of the Jena Six, Robert Bailey Jr. and Theo Shaw, Sept. 20, 2007, in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse in Jena, La. (Matthew Hinton/AFP/Getty Images)

Sharpton demonstrated to support the Jena Six in 2007.

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, and Trayvon’s brother Jahvaris Fulton at a rally organized by Al Sharpton in response to the nonguilty verdict of George Zimmerman, July 20, 2013, in New York City (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Sharpton stood with the family of Trayvon Martin.

Al Sharpton at a public viewing of James Brown at the Apollo Theater, Dec. 28, 2006, in New York City (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images) 

He was there when his friend James Brown was laid to rest in 2006.

Michael Jackson with Rev. Al Sharpton at Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters in Harlem, July 6, 2002, to address unfairness and racism in the music industry (Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images)

Rev. Al has demonstrated with a veritable who’s who of America. He even rolled with the late, great Michael Jackson.

Bill O’Reilly (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

When cable TV’s top-rated host wanted to sample Sylvia’s—Harlem’s famous soul food spot—who do you think took him there to eat?

Donald Trump and Rev. Al Sharpton speak at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Sharpton’s National Action Network Convention April 5, 2002, in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Back in the day, Sharpton even found something in common with New York’s other famous lightning rod.

Duncan, Gingrich and Sharpton after meeting with President Obama on education reform at the White House, May 7, 2009 (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images) 

And surely you remember when Al Sharpton teamed up with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at President Obama’s behest?

Al Sharpton and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at the ninth annual National Action Network Convention, April 20, 2007, in New York City (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

Here he is in 2007 with a once-and-future presidential hopeful. They’re probably asking, “Have you ever heard of some state senator named Barry Obama?”

President Barack Obama greets Al Sharpton at the 16th annual NAN convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square, April 11, 2014 (John Moore/Getty Images) 

At this week’s National Action Network Convention, you’d have seen him with that Barry guy, otherwise known as the president of the United States.

Then-President George W. Bush with Al Sharpton, alongside then-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, before a discussion of No Child Left Behind at General Philip Kearny School in Philadelphia, Jan. 8, 2009 (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

But he’s actually on a first-name basis with more than one president.

Al Sharpton on the first night of PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton (Facebook)

Had enough Sharpton yet? If not, you can catch him every night on MSNBC.

Image taken from an FBI surveillance tape from 1983 shows Al Sharpton talking to an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer in New York City. The tape was broadcast on Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel on July 23, 2002. (HBO Sports/Getty Images)

So to recap, one little surveillance video showing him negotiating with an undercover fed about that flaky white stuff … it won’t keep him down.

Al Sharpton with Tamika Mallory (left) and girlfriend Aisha McShaw (Johnny Nunez/Getty Images) 

Just look at him. Slicked back, slim, immaculately attired and with a look on his face that can only be interpreted as, “You mad?”

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