Al Sharpton
Al SharptonReuters

Al Sharpton acknowledged his role in stoking division in an appeal to Reform Jews for a united front in facing down anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bias and, recounting how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow reprimanded him for his “cheap” rhetoric.

The civil rights activist and MSNBC host reportedly has expressed regrets privately to Jewish leaders for the incendiary rhetoric that helped fuel the deadly Crown Heights riots in 1991. But Monday’s remarks here at the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience were the closest he has come in public in acknowledging his role.

The invitation earned criticism for seeming to rehabilitate a figure at the center of a number of anti-Semitic clashes in the 1990s. After the accidental killing of a black child in Brooklyn by a car driven by a member of the Lubavitcher rebbe’s entourage, African-American protesters targeted religious Jews in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

Yankel Rosenbaum, a graduate student affiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch, was stabbed to death in the rioting.

Sharpton also was accused of inciting the violent firebombing of a Jewish-owned clothing store in Harlem in 1995.

Without mentioning the Crown Heights riots specifically, Sharpton said he could have “done more to heal rather than harm.” And he said that all the public criticism he received paled next to the rebuke from Coretta Scott King, who was known for her closeness to the Jewish community. It appears to be the first time Sharpton has publicly shared the tale.