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Here’s What Bernie Sanders Actually Did on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement

Hillary’s last hope at stopping Bernie’s momentum and salvaging her campaign rests largely upon minority voters in South Carolina.

So it hardly came as a surprise when the Congressional Black Caucus PAC chose today to endorse Hillary, despite the fact that the Congressional Black Caucus’s members never voted on this. The endorsement was voted on by 11 lobbyists, 2 PAC officials, and 7 elected officials.

In fact, according to the Intercept, “Every major union or progressive organization that let its members have a vote endorsed Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, all of Hillary Clinton’s major group endorsements come from organizations where the leaders decide.” This includes prominent endorsements for Clinton from the SEIU and other labor organizations, as well as the Human Rights Campaign, all of which decided their endorsements through executive boards rather than by membership vote.

However, the real waves from the CBC PAC’s endorsement were created by the remarks of civil rights legend John Lewis, who called Bernie’s own civil rights record into question.

“I never saw him. I never met him,” Lewis said. “I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed (the) voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President (Bill) Clinton.”

No one can call Lewis’s tremendous record and personal sacrifice in the name of civil rights into question, but the statement that he “never met him” is meant to imply far more than is fair, given that the two operated in cities on opposite sides of the country.

Perhaps this move by Clinton to shore up support can be explained as a reaction to noted black icons Ben Jealous and Ta-Nehisi Coates coming out in support of Bernie. Regardless, let’s cut through the “artful smear” being created by the Clinton campaign and look at the facts. How DID Bernie participate in the civil rights movement?

In his first year the University of Chicago, Bernie joined the campus chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), where he helped lead a 15 day sit-in at the school administration in protest of some off-campus buildings owned by the university that were refusing to rent to black students.

The administration caved, agreeing to form a commission to address the school’s housing policies. Bernie was given a position on this commission, and when it looked like university president George Beadle was going to back out on his promise, Bernie wrote the following scathing editorial in the student paper, calling on other students to voice their displeasure with the school’s administration:


Bernie became the university chairman of CORE, and he then went on to picket a restaurant chain for arresting black demonstrators who were trying to eat there. He was actually so involved in his activism that his grades suffered, and he had to relinquish his leadership position.

Still, he stayed involved with CORE throughout college and was even arrested for protesting the segregation of a South Side Chicago school.


The only time Bernie and John Lewis were at the same protest was at the famous March on Washington in 1963, where MLK Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. John Lewis also spoke at the event, and it’s almost certainly true he never “saw” Bernie there.

Then again, see if you can pick out Bernie from this picture.


Furthermore, while Lewis may have met the Clintons during their own fights for civil rights, the timeline here is not nearly as straightforward as suggested. Clinton was actually a Young Republican right up until 1968. She was even a supporter of Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I’ve never met Bernie either, but I don’t doubt his service. Whether you’re voting for him or not, neither should you.


Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW

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