BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Al Sharpton says his ancestors were owned as slaves by the family of the late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond.
The reverend joins us now from Miami, Florida. Why is this important to you? You said it was the most shocking thing you've ever heard?
AL SHARPTON, REV.: Well, yes. When a reporter came to me from New York paper, "The Daily News", and said they wanted to, during black history month, do a family tree thing on me, I told them fine. I thought it would be a little story.
When they came back with the genealogists and asked was my grandfather named Coleman Sharpton, I said yes. They said did you know that his father's name was Coleman Sharpton? I said no. And they proved to me that my great grandfather was in fact a slave in Edgefield, South Carolina. They had the documents where he had been filed as the property of a person named Jefferson Sharpton, married to Anita Thurmond Sharpton. And then was moved to Florida, where he was led out by them as an indentured servant to make money.
This is no longer an objective guess that your ancestors were slaves. You're talking about a subjective knowing of why you're named what you are named, and where your grandfather and your father came from.
And on top of that, one of the political figures of the 20th century that really championed and campaigned for segregation, it's just a stunning thing to me. No surprise I had South Carolina roots. It was absolutely unthinkable that someone would come to me and tell me that Strom Thurmond's family was, in fact, the ones that owned my great grandfather and be able to prove it.
O'REILLY: But why does it matter to you? I can understand obviously you and most other people wanting to know where you came from and what your ancestors did. But is it important to you that Strom Thurmond, a segregationist is it important to you that his family owned your family?
SHARPTON: Well, what's important to me is that my great grandfather was a slave at all and treated as property and not as a human being.
O'REILLY: Didn't you know that though?
SHARPTON: I no, I did not know specifically where he was. I think most people don't know specifically. And I think any race that had gone through slavery, when you get the actual details of your family, that means a lot to you.
SHARPTON: You love your family and your blood not like anyone else.
SHARPTON: I think the media is responding to the fact that this arch segregationist family was the guy that owned him. I would have had the same reaction personally no matter who it was. I just think that what heightens it.
SHARPTON: ...is the irony of it being Thurmond.
O'REILLY: The shock to you was that you now have proof that your family was brutalized by the system, taken over here and basically treated as a commodity. That's the now what you thought has been proven and you are the reality is emotionally what?
SHARPTON: It is personal.
SHARPTON: It is now where I know where I'll give you an example, Bill. When I came to Miami last night and got stuck at the airport and was asked for an autograph. First time I thought in my life and thought about why my name is Al Sharpton.
SHARPTON: Because of Jefferson Sharpton. It's as personal as writing your name.
O'REILLY: I got it.
SHARPTON: And that's why it's important.
O'REILLY: Now over the weekend, the state of Virginia unanimously voted to apologize for being one of the states that had slavery. Is that important? Should Americans take notice of that and why?
SHARPTON: Oh, I think so. I think Representative Dwight Jones and others that were in that fight clearly if America is going to deal with anything, as they do issues around the world, they should be on record to acknowledge what was done, and repair what was done in ways that I think you've got to remember.
I called my father yesterday. I grew up. My father and mother were separated since I was a kid. I called my father to tell him what this paper had discovered. And he reminded me. My father's 80-years-old. He couldn't vote until he was in his 40s. He said I wasn't a full citizen for half my life.
So we're not talking about a thousand years ago. We're talking about my lifetime. We're talking about my father. And I think people still don't want to have the discussion of these things so we won't finish the trip. You don't avoid something and solve it. You deal with it and solve it.
O'REILLY: What good is the discussion? What good is the discussion?
SHARPTON: The discussion is good because we understand where we have come from, where we're at, and what we've got to do to go where we need to go. It's as good as having an analysis before surgery. You've got to first open a wound to dig the poisons out. The more you cover the poison, the less the surgery is going to be effective.
O'REILLY: All right. We got a minute left. You said that this was a positive thing, this Strom Thurmond. You took something positive away from it. What was that?
SHARPTON: The positive thing is that people struggled to stop slavery, abolitionists, and others, all the way to the civil rights movement. And because of people's sacrifice and struggles Strom Thurmond ran in '48 as a segregationist candidate for president. I ran in '04 on a civil rights platform.
We've made some progress only with struggle. But we still got a long way to go. And I intend to even be more committed than ever.
O'REILLY: Now I'm not going to put words in your mouth, but you know, a guy like you with the background that you had rising up to be one of the most famous people in the country. America great country, that can happen to somebody like you?
SHARPTON: America can be a great country, because great people pay the price. It didn't happen on its own. There's the ugliness of what happened and the beauty of those that responded to what happened.
O'REILLY: All right.
SHARPTON: And that is why I do join you and say to a lot of young people in my own community we can't denigrate that and desecrate that by undoing the greatness of people that paid the price as well. It gives us an obligation as well as America a wake-up call.
O'REILLY: All right. Reverend, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
SHARPTON: Thank you.