John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, “What is the Truth?”
47,851 have visited this site since we posted the pictures I made of young Bernie Sanders in 1962. They came looking for the truth. Three major news organizations have used a photograph I made of Bernie Sanders as a twenty year old student at the University of Chicago to attack his campaign and to denigrate his early place in history.
In 1962, a few months after I made the pictures of Bernie as an early civil rights activist, I made another picture of another young man sitting quietly in the back of a church in Cairo, Illinois. I have published that in my book, Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement. I knew who John Lewis was when I saw him that morning because of his unparalleled bravery as a freedom rider. The year before we met, the Freedom Rides had made John Lewis a hero to all young, caring and politically engaged students. I was one of them, and I’m sure Bernie was another. It was 1962, over fifty-three years ago.
Bernie chose to organize in the North. I went south. I became the principle photographer of the southern civil rights movement, John Lewis’s roommate in Atlanta, and a paid staff member of the SNCC. In 1962 there were very few white northerners that went south. In many ways SNCC did not want them to come. Integrated groups in the deep South seemed to incite violence. Finally, in the summer of 1964, SNCC and CORE recruited students from the North, and a thousand, mostly northern whites came to Mississippi. Within days, just as Freedom Summer began, three were murdered. Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney. They were taken into the woods and lynched. Goodman and Schwerner were both from New York City. They were both Jewish, as I am. As Bernie Sanders is. Since the time of Roosevelt there had been a real effective political alliance between African Americans and Jewish Americans. The children of immigrants that had fled lands where they had been persecuted and discriminated against as a despised minority identified with and fought for the rights of American blacks. It was a natural and powerfully affective alliance.
The civil rights movement of the 1960’s was a vast and great event, like the American civil war. A few hundred thousand participated. The real soldiers were in the South, young African Americans, often high school school students, in the streets, creating change their parents’ generation had been unable or unwilling to demand. John Lewis, who became the chairman of SNCC, was one of the most visible of those soldiers. When he was my roommate he had been arrested forty times. That was his job. In the North, armies of people raised money, sent food, bought cars and radios and sent them South. Bernie chose to work in the North. These were the “Friends of SNCC”. Harry Belafonte, helped create SNCC. He paid $300 for my first ticket to Mississippi. He supports Bernie. The largest of the Friends of SNCC was in Chicago. John Lewis, has denied the early activism of Bernie Sanders. John says “he never met Bernie” in the South, a patently ridiculous statement. Did John Lewis ever meet Andrew Goodman? Did John ever meet Mickey Schwerner? Did he meet James Chaney? I never did, and I was sent everywhere by SNCC. The March on Washington, during which I slept on the floor of John’s hotel room, was attended by a quarter of a million people. It was a popular liberal event. How could anyone see anyone there? John (and Dr King) were cordoned off inside the Lincoln Memorial, along with celebrities and the powerful and everyone else was stretched out in mass below.
The worst thing about Congressman John Lewis’s embrace of the Clintons and his attack on Bernie Sanders is that John Lewis is a pacifist. It is one of his most endearing and courageous qualities. Congressman Lewis never votes for a military appropriation. He is one of only four or five congressmen, out of five hundred, that votes this way. His Christmas card shows John and his friend the Dali Lama, touching heads and praying in Peace. He means it. John told me “war is outmoded”. John is right. But the crushing “politics as usual” of the Democratic Party has John supporting Hillary, who is a Hawk, and attacking Bernie Sanders, who is a much more peaceful politician.
In the last campaign when Hillary ran against President Obama, John supported Hillary. I was fishing on the Hudson when I reached John on my cell. “John” I said, “You’ve got to switch. You can create the first black president of the United States.” John said he’d been getting a lot of calls and there would “be an announcement soon.” A week later John switched his support to Barack Obama.
Which candidate will be better for African Americans? Which will be better for the abandoned people of South Carolina? Bernie Sanders will be better. Because he is a progressive, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and not a status quo figure like Hillary. It is not just the people of South Carolina that have been abandoned. All of us have been abandoned. The country is a shambles. The status quo, including the Democratic Party and the Clintons, has run this country into the ground. Bernie uses the word “revolution”. That is what South Carolina needs. That is what we all need. Politics are politics. John, are you out there? We all love you. Time to switch sides.
As of this posting, Congressman Lewis has issued a statement in effect saying that because he never met Bernie, “he did not doubt that Senator Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement… (and that) Thousands sacrificed in the 1960’s whose names we will never know.” Good man Congressman Lewis. Spoken as a true SNCCer.