Let’s End The Controversy Over Bernie Sanders’ Civil Rights Record Once And For All

Ever since Georgia Representative and Civil Rights icon John Lewis attempted to cast doubt over Bernie Sanders’ Civil Rights record, the media has been playing virtual tennis with the controversy, lobbying balls of speculation back and forth across the internet. Was Bernie Sanders an active part of the Civil Rights movement? Did he actually attend the March on Washington to hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech?

On Thursday, Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post attempted to discredit Sanders by noting that some anonymous college classmates had claimed that a photo of Bernie speaking to a group during a sit-in was not him, but another man named Bruce Rappaport. A story alleging this originally appeared in Time magazine, yet neither story appears to have been verified. In fact, the original photographer, Danny Lyon, has confirmed that the man in the photograph in question is, indeed, Bernie Sanders, not Rappaport. But the rumors persist, so Sanders supporters have taken matters into their own hands to try and prove the veracity of Lyon’s assertion.


If one were to judge by the arm movements, it appears to be no question that it’s Bernie Sanders. The way the arm and hand are active in the photo are very similar to how Bernie uses his hands while speaking today.

On Reddit, user u/Clinton_Supporter made comparisons of Bernie’s ears from one photo taken in 1963 to a more recent photo. The ears, although 52-years apart, unquestionably belong to the same man. However, the earlier photo of Sanders’ ear came from an undisputed photo — one in which he is standing at a podium next to University of Chicago President George Beadle. The disputed photo’s quality is so grainy that the outline of the ear is hard to see, even when cleaned up. But it does have a strong similarity to Bernie Sanders’.

bernie's ears

But that’s really all moot. No one, save for Rep. Lewis and a few others, have questioned Bernie Sanders’ Civil Rights record. Even Randy Ross, Bruce Rappaport’s ex-wife, acknowledges Sanders’ long record of hard work for the civil rights of minority groups. In a follow-up story, Capehart refers to this tempest in a teacup as a “clash of memory.” Ross, who was married to Rappaport for five years, insists that the young man standing addressing the group is her ex-husband. Danny Lyon, a distinguished photographer of the Civil Rights era, insists it is Bernie Sanders and says he has the contact sheets to prove it. If they are actually two separate people, then both Sanders and Rappaport would have worn identical outfits on the same day, as they addressed the same crowd.

That would be a most unlikely coincidence by not outside the realm of possibility.

What’s actually troubling is how Lewis said he never met Bernie Sanders during the Civil Rights movement. It’s not troubling for the obvious reasons, because it’s entirely possible that he actually never did meet Bernie. What is problematic is Lewis’ omission as to why he never met Sanders: he was over 600 miles away in Alabama. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison called Lewis out on CNN for his remarks soon after the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement for Hillary Clinton.

“He didn’t see Bernie Sanders because Bernie Sanders was doing fair and open housing in Chicago. — that’s why he didn’t see him. No matter how good your eyesight is — if you are standing in Alabama, you can’t see people in Chicago.”

Despite Ellison’s criticism, he praised Lewis as one of the leading forces of change in the Civil Rights movement and offered up a kidney in the future if Lewis should ever need one.

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 13: Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) thanks supporters after speaking at a rally on February 13, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. Sanders spoke about keeping big money out of politics, climate change and making college affordable and drew an overflow crowd. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

In what could only be described as damage control, former Congressional Black Caucus chair and Missouri congressman Emmanuel Cleaver talked with CNN’s Jake Tapper and emphasized that no one was questioning the Vermont senator’s record on Civil Rights. Tapper put Cleaver on the spot, reiterating the fact that Sanders had been arrested in 1962 while fighting against segregated schools in Chicago. Was Lewis’ criticism of Sanders fair, he asked?

Cleaver defended Lewis’ own history as an activist, which he said gives him credibility to speak about what he saw during that time, but he also noted that 250,000 people marched on Washington, so everyone there, in Cleaver’s opinion, is a civil rights icon. But concerning Bernie Sanders specifically, Cleaver’s opinion of him was lukewarm at best.

“I don’t think there’s anything that Bernie Sanders has done or said anything that would cause us to believe he is anti-civil rights. So I think that issue is settled by a number of things, including the way the senator has voted.”

In other words, we could argue until the end of time about who is in a particular photo. We could argue about the merits of Bernie Sanders’ Civil Rights record. But even then, if members of the CBC are saying they don’t question his history, then let’s end this fabricated controversy and go back to debating the important issues.

[Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty]