Fried, Dyed & Laid To The Side: Al Sharpton’s Hair Over The Years

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When you think of Al Sharpton there are a few things that come to mind. Civil Rights. Reverend. Weight loss. And most prominently, hair. Al Sharpton’s hair is his brand, his trademark. After all, it’s not everyday in this day and age that you see a black man with a perm or maybe a press and curl. But Al has been rocking the flowy tresses for decades, surely as long as he’s been on the public scene. Check out the the styles he’s rocked over the years.


It’s only right that we start this Al Sharpton hair story with James Brown. You may not know that James served as a father figure to Sharpton back in the day. Sharpton was abandoned by his own father and Brown had just lost a son, Teddy, who Sharpton had befriended before his death in a car accident. When Brown attended the funeral he met Sharpton and served as his mentor.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan invited James Brown to the White House to discuss making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. He invited Sharpton to come along with him but suggested he get his hair done for the occasion. In an interview with Ebony, Sharpton recalled the incident:

“He said, `I want [Reagan] to see a younger version of me when he sees you. After I did it, he said he wanted me to keep my hair like that until he died, as our bond. So that’s how I ended up with this hairstyle.”

In the earlier years, it seemed that Sharpton’s hair seemed to thrive in it’s new relaxed state. Here, Al’s hair is luscious, long, full and seemingly bouncy.

If you want to see this hair in action, here is Sharpton, his hair cascading in backward, flowing waves, saying something good at the pulpit. People talk a lot of smack about Al Sharpton; but as someone who’s heard him speak, I can confirm that the man can preach a word.

A frontal view of the full curls, notice the sheen.

Here, presumably years later, Sharpton’s hair is significantly shorter, less curly and less shiny.

Ok… so clearly this gif is not highlighting his hair style at the moment. This is Sharpton paying homage to James Brown at the Apollo. You might be more inclined to watch his footwork but if you look closely, you can see that Al was starting to gray around the temples.

Here the father-son hairdos are clear. Both Sharpton and Brown shared a stylist that day.

Since you couldn’t quite tell what was going on in that gif above: gray edges, combed back and a single, solitary barrel curl behind his ear.

Let’s go back a little bit, in 1987-88, Sharpton was traveling around with a young woman named Tawana Brawley. Brawley, who was 15 at the time,  accused six, white men of raping her. After the assault Brawley’s body was found in a trash bag, with racial slurs written on her and covered in feces. Believing it was a legit social justice issues, Sharpton joined her in seeking punishment for these men. Though Brawley and her family claim the allegations are true, in ’88, a grand jury found that Brawley only made it appear as if she was involved in an attack. She, Sharpton and her other advisor were sued for defamation of character. Sharpton was ordered to pay one of the accused attackers $65,000, supporters, including Johnnie Cochran helped him pay the fee in 2001.

There are some who still believe Tawana was telling the truth. Regardless, Sharpton put in some real work getting people to pay attention to her story. You can see it evidenced her by the puffiness of his hair and the falling curls.

It’s not easy to maintain Reverend Al’s look. In the New York Post, he gave us a sneak peek at what it takes to perfect the curled, slick back.

Don’t let the process fool you, Al will take you down if necessary.

In a more recent picture, Al’s hair is severely shorter, either through breakage of several trims over the years. His ends are simple bumped, no more barrel curls here.

In this picture from a recent Trayvon Martin rally from this summer, we see Al hasn’t given up on the waves and curls. The only difference is he’s completely gray now. Perhaps it’s just me but I do believe I see a flip or two back there. We know why Al initially permed his hair. And even though he agreed to keep it in honor of his surrogate father, James Brown, at this point I’m sure it’s just comfortable and familiar. After all, even if Al did decide to cut his hair, how would you suggest he wear it? I personally don’t have any suggestions.

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