Shaun King (full name Jeffery Shaun King) was born September 17, 1979, in Franklin County, Kentucky, and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. He earned a BA in history from Morehouse College in 2001, and a Master’s Degree in history from Arizona State University in 2018. While at Morehouse, King received a scholarship through the Oprah Winfrey Endowed Scholars Program. In 1999, he became the youngest student-government president elected at Morehouse since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (no relation) was a student there in 1947.
Before he rose to national prominence, Shaun King taught history and civics in Atlanta and then was a traveling teacher and counselor for several years at a dozen different jails, prisons, and youth detention centers across the state of Georgia. In June 2008 he created a church, named The Courageous Church, in inner-city Atlanta, where he served as pastor until September 2011. The church folded soon after King left.
Also before becoming known as an activist and social commentator, King was active in philanthropic endeavors whose success he exaggerated:
In April 2012, King co-founded the Upfront Media Group (UMG), which he described as “a consumer facing app (iPhone and Android) and web platform created to allow artists and leaders to build intimate online communities with their most devoted fans.” He remained a board member with UMG until October 2015.
The biographical sketch which King displays on his website emphasizes his belief that America is a nation thoroughly infested with white racism: “Leaders like Shaun King help us see how racism is not dead and forgotten, but merely a mutating virus, and one that manifests in different forms in every age. Racism, mass incarceration, policies that criminalize blackness in the twenty-first century—these problems won’t solve themselves. And that’s why King’s voice, perspective, and work are so important.”
King gained prominence for his race-related activism when he joined Black Lives Matter (BLM) shortly after the August 9, 2014 police shooting of a black teen named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In 2016 the Center for Media & Social Impact said that King had “played an outsized role in spreading the word about Brown’s death far beyond the St. Louis area.” Notably, King’s commentary about Brown’s death caught the attention of Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, who in September 2014 hired him as a columnist focusing on “police-state excesses.” Over the next 13 months, King went on to write more than 500 articles for Daily Kos “on issues at the intersection of race, discrimination, injustice, and equality.”
Fox News reports that King’s stature as “a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement” diminished in 2015 when “he was accused of being a Caucasian falsely portraying himself as black.” Specifically, King claimed that he was biracial, with a white mother and a black father. But a birth certificate issued by the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics identifies King’s father as Jeffery Wayne King, who is white. In August 2015, at least one of King’s family members and two of his childhood friends told Breitbart News and CNN that King was 100% white. As King’s claim of black ancestry began falling apart, the Black Conservatives Fund PAC (political action committee) offered to donate $25,000 to Black Lives Matter if King could prove that his father was black or if he agreed to a DNA test.
In an effort to refute the allegations against him, including a Breitbart article accusing him of having lied about his racial background in order to secure an Oprah Scholarship to attend the historically black Morehouse College, King said:
“I refuse to speak in detail about the nature of my mother’s past, or her sexual partners, and I am gravely embarrassed to even be saying this now, but I have been told for most of my life that the white man on my birth certificate is not my biological father and that my actual biological father is a light-skinned black man. My mother and I have discussed her affair. She was a young woman in a bad relationship and I have no judgment…. All of my siblings and I have different parents. I’m actually not even sure how many siblings I have. It is horrifying to me that my most personal information, for the most nefarious reasons, has been forced out into the open and that my private past and pain have been used as jokes and fodder to discredit me and the greater movement for justice in America. I resent that lies have been reported as truth and that the obviously racist intentions of these attacks have been consistently downplayed at my expense and that of my family.”
King also attempted to burnish his racial credentials by claiming in 2015 that twenty years earlier, when he was in high school, he had once been “brutally assaulted” in a “hate crime” committed by “a racist mob of [white] rednecks” who thought he was black. Though King said that he had sustained serious spinal injuries in that attack, police reports indicate not only that his injuries were minor, but also that he was attacked specifically because he was a white person dating a young black woman.
King maintained that efforts to portray him as a liar were meant to discredit both him and the Black Lives Matter movement that he represented. “Not one person behind these reports has remotely good intentions — quite the opposite, in fact,” he wrote in Daily Kos in August 2015. “Since these articles have been released, my family and I have received constant death threats and nonstop racist harassment. Multiple members of my family have been harassed and we now have been forced to take extra security measures for our safety.”
In September 2015 the New York Daily News hired King as a “senior justice writer” covering race-related matters such as “police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial justice.” Less than a year later, writers from the Daily Beast and other media outlets accused King of plagiarism. Those accusations appear to have been inaccurate, however, as evidenced by an April 2016 CNN report indicating that the Daily News had decided to fire one of its editors “for removing attribution from columns by writer Shaun King, which made it appear as though King had plagiarized the works of others.” King left the Daily News after two years to become a writer-in-residence at the Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, where he continues to write commentary.
King has also been a “social justice commentator” at the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a nationally syndicated radio program, since October 2016.
In 2017 King became a columnist with First Look Media (FLM), which describes itself as a “media company devoted to supporting independent voices, from fearless investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking to smart, provocative entertainment.” King continues to write for FLM.
In May 2018, civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, a friend of King’s, publicly claimed that one of his clients, Sherita Dixon-Cole, had been kidnapped and raped by a white Texas State Trooper during a DWI stop. Without checking the veracity of that claim, King quickly became one of its most aggressive disseminators. Indeed, thanks to online posts by King and Merritt, Dixon-Cole’s allegations were shared more than 50,000 times within just three days. As King said in one online post:
“First she [Sherita Dixon-Cole] was forced to perform a breathalyzer test. She complied – and passed the test, but was told by the officer that he was going to arrest her anyway because she had a bad attitude…. the officer first communicated to Sherita that he would be willing to let her go if she performed sexual favors for him, then proceeded to sexually assault her, touching her under her skirt. When her fiancé arrived, the officer asked Sherita if he [the fiancé] had a gun, and threatened to kill him if she said anything about what had just happened…. My default position is going to always be to believe black women when they report what has happened to them. I believe Sherita.”
But soon thereafter, the Texas Department of Public Safety released the trooper’s entire body camera footage of the encounter, which clearly showed that the trooper had acted professionally, and that there had been no kidnapping or rape. Yet King expressed no remorse for having falsely accused an innocent man.
A few months later, King was again quick to promote unverified claims of white racial violence, this time with regard to the December 30, 2018 drive-by shooting death of a seven-year-old black girl in Houston named Jazmine Barnes. The girl’s mother and sister described the killer as a white male “with blue eyes, a thin build and no beard,” as well as “sunken cheekbones and a pale face.” On January 1, 2019, King took to Twitter to post a message titled “URGENT: ALL HANDS ON DECK” and announced: “I am joining the search for her [Jazmine Barnes’] killer and have a $25,000 reward. Need him NOW.” When authorities subsequently arrested a white man named Robert Cantrell, King tweeted on January 4: “We’ve had 20 people call or email us and say he is a racist, violent asshole and always has been.” As a result of King’s post, Cantrell’s family received threats of violence. But a few hours after Cantrell was picked up by police, law-enforcement authorities, having learned that he was the wrong man, successfully arrested the actual killers: two black men named Larry Woodruffe and Eric Black Jr. Once again, King offered no apology for his spurious remarks about the alleged white perpetrator.
In 2018 King co-founded Real Justice PAC, which promotes the election of activist district attorneys who support police reform measures, reductions in incarceration, and the termination of cash bail arrangements. According to King, Real Justice is devoted to the goal of ensuring that prosecutors reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the communities they represent. “The district attorneys in our country don’t represent the true diversity, the broad cross-section of views of our country,” he said in 2018. “Less than 1% are women of color, which is a crazy number.… People who are running for the office of district attorney are prosecuting people they don’t know. They’ve never been to a picnic with them, never sat in a pew with them.” Cari Tuna, the wife of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, is the leading donor to Real Justice, having given some $2.5 million to the organization as of 2019.
Starting in November 2018, King and activist Benjamin Dixon collaborated to build what they hoped would be a modern version of Fredrick Douglass’s 19th-century abolitionist newspaper, The North Star. The new King/Dixon media outlet launched an aggressive fundraising campaign promising “a full news website, an iPhone & Android app, four brand new podcasts, online video news broadcasts, and so much more.” As of November 2020, King still identified himself on his LinkedIn account as CEO of The North Star, which he described as a “modern hub for liberation journalism.”
King was a Fellow at the Sanders Institute, which ceased operations in 2019, along with such notables as Jane O’Meara Sanders (Bernie Sanders’ wife), Robert Reich, Nina Turner, Harry Belafonte, Jeffrey Sachs, Cornel West, Tulsi Gabbard, Bill McKibben, Danny Glover, Benjamin Jealous, Stephanie Kelton, and Michael Lighty.
In June 2020, King demanded that religious statues showing a light-skinned Jesus be toppled to the ground by by leftwing activists. “Yes, I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down,” he said on Twitter. “They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been.” Asserting also that “all murals and stained glass windows of white Jesus, and his European mother, and their white friends” should likewise be destroyed, King added: “They are a gross form [of] white supremacy. Created as tools of oppression. Racist propaganda. They should all come down. If your religion requires Jesus to be a blonde haired blue eyed Jesus, then your religion is not Christianity, but white supremacy. White Americans who bought, sold, traded, raped, and worked Africans to death, for hundreds of years in this country, simply could not have THIS man at the center of their faith.”
In addition to his aforementioned activities, King is also a columnist for The Intercept, an online publication of First Look Media, owned by eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar.
According to his website, King has spoken in approximately 35 states, in such venues as jails, prisons, corporate boardrooms, and more than 100 college campuses. He also wrote some 1,500 “articles on injustice” between 2014 and 2020.
As of November 2020, King had 1.1 million followers on Twitter.