Robert "Sonny" Carson

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Robert "Sonny" Carson
Robert Carson

May 22, 1936
South Carolina, United States
DiedDecember 20, 2002(2002-12-20) (aged 66)
New York City, New York, United States
Other namesSonny Carson, Mwlina Imiri Abubadika
OccupationPolitical activist
Known forThe December 12th Movement, The Family Red Apple boycott

Robert "Sonny" Carson (also known as Mwlina Imiri Abubadika;[1] May 22, 1936[2] – December 20, 2002), was a U.S. Army Korean War veteran, civil rights activist, and community leader in Brooklyn, New York. Carson was mostly known for his political organizing, and his coordination of public demonstrations. These demonstrations protested the education system that African-American communities in New York were subjected to during the 1960s and 70s. He is also known for his popular autobiography, The Education of Sonny Carson (1972), which was made into a 1974 film. Carson is the father of hip-hop artist Professor X.


Robert Carson was born on May 20, 1929 in South Carolina, but moved to Brooklyn as a child.[3] In his youth, Carson joined a street gang called the Bishops. Carson was arrested after robbing a Western Union messenger and was sent to a juvenile-detention center.[2]

Carson fought in the Korean War with the 82nd Airborne Division,[4] where he claimed to have met a Korean soldier who asked him, "Why would a black man fight for a country that would not let you drink from the same water fountain in Mississippi?"[3] This pivotal question led Carson to become a community activist after returning to civilian life.

Following his return to civilian life, Carson enrolled in college, and for a period of time he returned to involvement in illegal activities. However, he soon began working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and by 1967 he was the executive director of the Brooklyn CORE.[5] He broke from the organization in 1968, stating that it had not done enough to help African-Americans.[2]

Carson's later founded a group called the Committee to Honor Black Heroes.[2]

Kidnapping conviction[edit]

In 1974, Carson was convicted of kidnapping. The kidnapping charges, as the New York Times explained, "stemmed from what the defense represented as an attempted citizen's arrest of two other men who had twice robbed a black‐owned hotel in Brooklyn's Bedford‐Stuyvesant section."[6] Carson was incarcerated for 15 months in the Sing Sing prison.[2]

Advocate against drug use[edit]

In the 1980s Carson became an advocate against drug use,[2] founding a group called "Black Men's Movement Against Crack".[4]

Protesting police brutality[edit]

In the 1980s, Carson organized a number of demonstrations protesting police brutality.[2]


Carson organized the controversial Family Red Apple boycott of Korean-American owned stores in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in 1990.[7] He was also involved in the 1991 Crown Heights riot.[8] Carson fared poorly in the mainstream press for his racially discriminatory comments.

Family Red Apple boycott[edit]

Carson took a central role in organizing the Family Red Apple boycott, also known as the Flatbush boycott. Carson was investigated by the FBI, under the suspicion that he violated the civil rights of the Korean shopkeepers.[9]

Accusations of Racism[edit]

Carson was charged by his critics for being anti-Semitic. Carson responded, "That's absolutely absurd, 'anti-Semitic.' And so that you don't ask the question, I'm antiwhite. Don't limit my antis to just one group of people."[2] In his autobiography, The Education of Sonny Carson, however, Carson described successfully working side by side with Americans of Caucasian and Jewish descent during his time in the U.S. Army, the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the Brooklyn chapter of CORE.

Protest philosophy[edit]

Carson's political tactics often involved the use of public protest. His protest philosophy considered disrupting social order to draw attention to the plight of African-Americans. Several of Carson's protests turned violent. In an interview with The New York Times in 1987, Carson said: "You don't give us any justice, then there ain't going to be no peace. We're going to use whatever means necessary to make sure that everyone is disrupted in their normal life."[2]

The Dinkins campaign[edit]

Carson was the subject of media scrutiny in 1989, following speculations that the Dinkins mayoral campaign provided payments to Carson. The purpose of the payments was claimed to be either for a "get out of vote" drive organized by Carson, or, as critics maintained, for the assurance that Carson would refrain from staging protests during the campaign. Carson denied keeping campaign funds.[2][10]

David Dinkins released a statement apologizing for involving Carson in his campaign. Following one of Carson's "Anti-White" statements, Dinkins released a public statement critical of Carson stating: "Sonny Carson's comment represents the kind of bigotry and intolerance I utterly reject and have fought against my whole life. Had such comments come to my attention, he never would have played a role in my campaign."[10]

Health Issues and Death[edit]

A few months before December 2002, Carson suffered two heart attacks and became comatose. He was admitted to the Manhattan Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he remained until his death on December 20, 2002, at the age of 66.[2]


  1. ^, "The Education of Sonny Carson
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Santora, Marc (2002-12-23). "Sonny Carson, 66, Figure in 60's Battle for Schools, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-03-21.
  3. ^ a b Happy Physical Day, Abubadika Sonny Carson
  4. ^ a b Allah, Dasun (December 31, 2002). "Sonny Carson Dies". The Village Voice.
  5. ^ Jacoby, Tamar (1991). "Sonny Carson and the Politics of Protest". City Journal. Archived from the original on December 23, 2004.
  6. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (1974-12-10). "Sonny Carson Among Five Guilty in Kidnapping Case". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  7. ^ Sonny Carson, Koreans, and Racism. The New York Times. Accessed March 10, 2014.
  8. ^ Ari Goldman, The Region: as blacks clash with Hasidic Jews. The New York Times. Accessed March 10, 2014.
  9. ^ Kim, Claire Jean. Bitter Fruit: The Politics of Black-Korean Conflict in New York City. Yale University Press. Accessed March 10, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Dinkins Worker Says he used Campaign money in Vote Effort. The New York Times. Accessed March 10, 2014.