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Sharpton's Family Owned By Thurmond's Family; Thurmond's Relatives Deny It

Wow. . . just, wow:

In a revelation that will stun the nation, the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America's most powerful black leaders, has unearthed a shattering family secret - his ancestors were slaves owned by relatives of the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond.

It is an ironic twist of fate that inexorably links one of the most vocal civil rights activists and an icon of Deep South segregation.

A team of some of the country's most trusted genealogists spent two weeks examining Sharpton's family background.

Sharpton learned the results of their work this week. Today, in the first part of a Daily News series, Sharpton talks about the emotional shock of learning how his family was so closely linked to a man who embodied everything he despises.

The Rev. Al Sharpton sat silently in the sanctity of his Manhattan radio studio as his family's roots were laid bare before him.

Of course, when confronted with the direct burden of slavery, the sons and daughters of the Confederacy seek to distance themselves:

Relatives of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond greeted news of the family's shocking connection to the Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday with some nervous chuckles and one outright denial.

"That's a bunch of baloney," said Barry Bishop, the son of one of Thurmond's sisters.

"I've never heard anything about it," said Bishop, of Greenville, S.C.

"Well, have you seen documents?" he asked.

When told that genealogists from Ancestry.com had located historic documents that confirmed that Sharpton's great-grandfather Coleman Sharpton was enslaved by Thurmond relatives in the 1800s, Bishop responded, "Since I don't know anything about it, I'm afraid I can't comment."