Posted: Nov. 9, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware had another one of those "Sundays with Sharpton" sightings -- a visit from the Rev. Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton on a day he could combine his politics and his preaching by taking his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to church.

This was a makeup. Sharpton was supposed to go to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington when he made his first trip to the state on a Sunday in September, but a re-routed flight got him in too late for the service, so here he was again.

His appearance coincided with Bethel's 159th anniversary, which the congregation celebrated at Wilmington High School instead of its sanctuary at 6th and Walnut streets so there was room at one sitting for the customary two services. Several hundred people attended.

Sharpton delivered the sermon, about a half hour or so of religion and politics that had his listeners applauding, laughing, standing and shouting "Hallelujah" at its conclusion.

He mentioned his Delaware connection -- he has known Bethel Pastor Silvester S. Beaman for more than 20 years -- and reminded the congregation of fellow African-Americans what life was like when the church was new.

"A hundred fifty-nine years ago, it would have been unthinkable for any of us to be running or being the president," he said. "Our vote is dipped in the blood of martyrs. That's why I'm not going to give my vote to some slick-talking person."

With about a year to go before the 2004 election on Nov. 2, Sharpton's trip was part of a flurry of increasing political activity here. Delaware Democrats held their annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner last week and hosted Hadassah Lieberman and Teresa Heinz Kerry, while the Republicans this week are scheduled to have Laura Bush here and William Swain Lee declare his candidacy for governor.

Sharpton joins U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the 2000 vice presidential nominee, as the only members of the Democrats' nine-candidate presidential field making multiple trips here. Delaware Democrats will vote Feb. 3, a week after New Hampshire holds its traditional first-in-the-nation primary. Delaware Republicans are skipping a primary election with their party set on re-nominating President George W. Bush for a second term.

Beaman set the stage for Sharpton. "He is a Baptist preacher before he is a candidate. That's why we invited him here today," he said.

It was clearly the opening Sharpton was looking for. "I came to preach. I didn't come to talk politics, but since Beaman brought it up . . ." he said.

Sharpton dealt head on with criticism that his candidacy should be discounted because he cannot win. "There's nine folks running. I'll tell Bethel a secret -- eight of them are going to lose," he said. "You go to race tracks to vote for winners. You find the candidate who best says what you want to say. With me, you can't lose."

Sharpton called his sermon "Stay the Course" and said he learned what greatness is from Muhammad Ali. "You are not great until you've been knocked out," he said. "From the mat, from the ground, from the floor, God picks you back up again. . . . If I stay the course, He'll fight my battles."

Amid his preaching, Sharpton did a fair amount of bantering. "I thank God for another day -- a day we never earned or deserved. I don't care how holy you are, I don't care how saved you claim to be . . . if God just checked the record, none of us would see the next morning," he said. "Every day above ground is a good day."

Afterwards, Sharpton appeared to get what he came for. Churchgoers like Anita Golden called him "excellent" -- good for a sermon, good for a vote.