John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, “What is the Truth?”

At the University of Chicago sit-in. Bernie, on the right, Bob Brown on the left, winter 1962.

At the University of Chicago sit-in. Bernie, on the right, Bob Brown on the left, January 1962.

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.

Danny at the SNCC headquarters, July 1962.

Danny at the SNCC headquarters, July 1962.

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.

My picture and poster of John Lewis in Cairo, Illinois.

My picture and poster of John Lewis in Cairo, Illinois.

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.

Danny Lyon

20 Responses to “John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, “What is the Truth?””
  1. FortheloveofMary says:

    This is an incredible essay! Thank you so much for writing it and for clearing up the truth regarding Bernie. The Clinton machine is churning it’s filth out at high speed. As Bernie said “They’ve thrown everything at me but the kitchen sink, and that will be next” Are they ever!

    • M Stins says:

      You know what upsets me is comment like this. I was during the civil right movement and many Jewish young people dedicated their lives to the cause. However Bernie did not continue to help. He comes on the scene and excite the mind to goals we all want but young mind never take the time to see how these steps can be made. I was young once too and I jump to things that sound good but everything that sound good does not mean that it is good! Have you read how much it is gone to cost that Bernie wants to do? It will be push also on your children. The money you will earn will go into taxes so still have a hard time. Have you given thought that we must start at the state level and bring Democrats congress people and Senators into Congress!!! Obama had a hard time because many young people did not vote in 2012.

      What I do know is the record of Hillary over the years. Is she perfect of course not. Did she try to win in 2008, yes she did try. Did Bill show his true color of course he did. He did not believe that a Black man could win the office. Did he change and regret his statement I believe he did. But Hillary did not say it Bill did. I feel that this White woman has been targeted since she have done a lot for black children, some of you who have grown up now and forgot! She is hated because she is going to do a lot for people of color. It was a reason that Obama became President before so that she could humble and learn more about our struggle. Bernie has no clue to this and it was shown when “Black Lives Matter,” interrupted him. Bernie has dis President Obama and he has not walked truly in people of color shoes. A few sit in if it is him does not give a life time of fighting for equal justice. Email, server, Whitewater, Benghazi, and suffering humiliation over her husband sexual problems. She is a tough cookie and I wish she could show her soft side but she always given a bad hand and it is even worst because she is a WOMAN!

      • What the Clinton wing never understood was that they couldn’t defend what they did now by reiterating their real problem with Sanders : that he (according to them , I cannot stress this enough !!!) was not as involved as them , that he kept his hands clean in by first rejecting the Democratic party and then coming up in the post carter era of politics by not participating in the same activities as them and blasting them for their being part in the neoliberal era.

        WHY? Because the people that they were trying to convince wanted to see reflection and change on their part. Because according to the leading economists , the communities affected by decades of being ‘tough on crime'(when really being tough on minorities) AND the generation that has less opportunity than their parents politics took a wrong turn. Sanders on top of this spend his time in Vermont pioneering things that currently set him apart in a positive way but which were considered of lesser importance by the club that now thinks they were oh so active and involved. Sanders was talking about transgender rights decades before the Clinton administration ( of wi introduced don’t ask don’t tell.

        Sanders represents a branch of tought that has been unjustly written off in America, He stuck to it where others who may have agreed with him kept their convictions hidden until they forgot they had them and he turned out to be right ! And I get that this may have been frustrating to see for those who felt their intent was misrepresented but the reaction was comparable to the type of fragility that leads a ignorant white youth lament how unfair it is Black people get to say the N-word.

        Hillary Clinton should have reggocnized there were problems not with her as a person but with where the democratic party had travelled. Instead she , her campaign , party leadership and well to do long time democrats got visibly defensive and agressive and started to display intelectual dishonnesty that in the age of the internet always will backfire.

        At one point fairly early I read an article on the huffington post where a proffessor of political science claimed it was hypocritical and possibly sexist of people to demand Clinton raise funds differently than Kerry and Obama had , the comment section ofcoarse was filled with people pointing out that 1. since Sanders had now proven it was possible to do crowd funding Clinton couldn’t argue it was a necessary evil, and 2. Clinton superpacs had been openly gleefull about using loopholes in campaign finance law 3. people wanted to see progress.

  2. Sarah Gray says:

    His new article calls you a liar, essentially.

  3. FortheloveofMary says:

    Well Capehart takes no responsibility and is still pushing the trope, in his piece and Tweets, that It was not Bernie. The Clinton machine is so deeply dark. It’s heartbreaking they are doing this to Bernie. Capehart will be on all the MSNBC shows pedaling these falsehood & MSM will eat it up. Depressing.

  4. Always glad when Danny Lyon’s extraordinary photographs get notice. The documentarian of ‘the Movement’ as well as of alternative cultures and just plain weirdness. An American treasure.

  5. Judy Coover says:

    Thank you for this heartfelt story. Bernie Sanders has fought the good fight since the ’60s, and people are finally listening.

  6. Michelle says:

    So glad I found this blog! Thanks!

  7. kimberly fredericks-clemens says:

    Danny, I must thank you from my heart for speaking up! While in search of the truth about Bernie photos, I have been looking at all of your captivating photos, beautiful.

  8. I listened to Lewis’ statement, and all he said was that he had never met Bernie then, but he HAD met Hillary and Bill. Beyond that, I don’t know what happened when the spinners got their hands on it, but Lewis didn’t say Bernie was a fraud or anything. Blame the media, not Mr. Lewis.

  9. Eric Thornley says:

    This is a great piece of writing! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Nynia Chance says:

    Reblogged this on Nynia in the Now and commented:
    Danny Lyon shares an insightful look into the Civil Rights work of the SNCC, including John Lewis & Bernie Sanders’ work in it.

  11. Ron says:

    Thank you very much. Photos and essay show the humanity of both John Lewis and Bernie Sanders, and the darkness of Clinton politics.

  12. We shall overcome. #FeelTheBern

  13. We shall overcome. #FeelTheBern

  14. Mel says:

    First, Mr. Lyon, thanks so much for documenting the Civil Rights Movement. And I extend my appreciation to all who were there, including Mr. Rappaport. At least his name is getting a mention now. I can certainly understand why his ex-wife might desperately wish that those photos were her ex-husband. But the truth is they are not.

    I’m pretty livid with Jonathan Capehart and his arrogant insistence that the photo is not Bernie. The dishonesty in his second article is astounding, as he’s only weighted evidence that supports his first article. He conveniently leaves out the other photos.

    There’s one thing that many people keep mentioning that can really resolve whether or not that photo was of Bernie, aside from the exact same sweater he was wearing in a subsequent photo. The ears are indisputably Bernie’s. From the photos I’ve seen of Rappaport, his ear lobes appear short and rounded whereas Bernies are long and triangular and match his earlobes today. It would be nice to find a more recent photo of Rappaport and just have a close-up comparison of their ears. Ears are the new fingerprints and if you google “ears as identification” you will see there are many more articles like this one.

    Mr. Lyon, would you please do this? It would clear up everything once and for all and I’m sure a lot of other media outlets would pick it right up.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Danny Lyon is the photographer who took the well-known picture of Sanders leading a sit-in at the University of Chicago to protest segregated housing practices at the school in 1962. Lyon documented much of the civil rights movement during the 60s, and for a while he and Lewis were roommates. […]

  2. […] frequent roommate of Civil Rights Icon John Lewis was there for that historic sit-in in Chicago. His story of these days provides a compelling insight into the struggles those early civil rights activists […]

  3. […] 13 February 2016, Lyon published a third post about the controversy, which detailed his acquaintance with Rep. John Lewis. Lyon claimed he […]

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