Two days later, he felt compelled to clarify his remarks “in the interest of unity.”
South Carolina’s Democratic primary is Feb. 27, followed by others across the South in states with predominantly African-American Democratic voters. Sanders trounced Clinton in New Hampshire after a tight finish in Iowa, two states with a less diverse electorate.
On his campaign website, Sanders says he has a “long history of fighting for social equality and the rights of Black Americans — a record that goes back to the early 1960s.”
While a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was involved in the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He also was arrested while protesting segregation.
Lewis, a leading figure in the Freedom Rides through the South, lunch counter sit-ins and the 1963 March on Washington, had made his remarks about Sanders at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday where members of the Congressional Black Caucus’ political action committee delivered a strong endorsement of Clinton.
But in his statement Saturday, he said, “Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”
In a telephone interview on Saturday, Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Associated Press that the civil rights movement took different forms across the country and that Sanders had participated in efforts aimed at equitable housing while in college.
“There is some evidence that he was a part of protests at the University of Chicago,” Jackson said. “The movement in the north was different than the movement in the South.”
Jackson, a Greenville native who has not endorsed a candidate in the Democratic primary, met with Sanders last year, and the senator had endorsed Jackson’s presidential bid in 1988.
Jackson also said that either candidate’s history or experience pales in comparison to the importance of their current stances on issues that appeal to Black voters.
“We make a mistake in trying to measure what Sen. Sanders or Hillary Clinton stand for by looking in the rear-view mirror,” Jackson said. “I see both Hillary and Bernie as being decent, forward-looking people.”