February 13, 2016
Poor Bernie Sanders. The guy can’t seem to catch a break. First the Congressional Black Caucus mostly endorses Hillary Clinton and then none other than civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis stands up to make a speech saying how he never saw Sanders at any marches supporting black citizens. But he did see the Clintons. (The Hill)
“To be very frank, I never saw him, I never met him,” Lewis said during the CBC PAC’s endorsement.
“I chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963-1966. I was involved in sit-ins, Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the March from Selma to Montgomery … but I met Hillary Clinton, I met President Clinton.”
As he spoke, someone in the crowd could be heard repeatedly saying “uh oh” and “tell it” as Lewis made his points.
Well, you don’t get much more of a living authority on the civil rights era than Lewis, so I guess that’s that, eh? Or maybe not. We received a tip about a rather fascinating book which everyone may want to rush out and have a look at. It’s an older volume, but it was written by Janis F. Kearney, who served as the Presidential Diarist to President Bill Clinton from 1995 – 2001. The book is titled Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton : from Hope to Harlem.
The tome contains this interesting section from a chapter on John Lewis. Here’s how it starts, with a bit of emphasis added:
The first time I heard of Bill Clinton was in the early ’70s. I was living in Georgia, working for the Southern Poverty Law organization, when someone told me about this young, emerging leader in Arkansas who served as attorney general, then later became governor.
Just a moment ago he was talking about his work from 1963-1966 when he had never met Sanders, but had met the Clintons. But he apparently told Bill’s diarist that he’d never heard of him until the early seventies. And mind you… that’s just when he heard of him. When did they actually meet? The chapter continues.
I think I paid more attention to him at the 1988 Democratic Convention, when he was asked to introduce the presidential candidate and took up far more time than was allotted to him. After he became involved with the Democratic Leadership Council, I would run into him from time to time.But it was one of his aides, Rodney Slater, who actually introduced us in 1991 and asked me if I would support his presidency.
So he had “run into him” from time to time and was finally introduced in 1991. It’s also worth noting that there is still zero mention of Hillary. If he had known her and not her famous husband, it seems like it would have come up in the conversation by now. But back to the question of dates, I’m not a history expert and math isn’t my strong suit, but I think 1991 was considerably after the march on Selma… possibly by almost 30 years. Further, Lewis has always had his finger on the pulse of black leaders who were in tune with the history and progress of civil rights. Perhaps some of them knew Bill and Hillary instead?
Rodney gets the credit for convincing me that Bill Clinton was “the man,” when he told me all he had done in Arkansas to help change the layout of that state. In the summer of 1991, I hosted a breakfast for him in the Rayburn building. Congressmen Mike Espy and Bill Jefferson were there. The three of us were trying to convince the Democratic Black Caucus to endorse Clinton. Most Northern members didn’t know him and wasn’t very interested. Only a few members of the black Caucus came to the breakfast, but those of us there had a wonderful discussion. Several staff people came from different offices, and they all came back to me later to say how wonderful he was.
What was so striking about Bill Clinton was that here was a governor and a presidential candidate, and he actually made you feel as if he knew he needed you. He was warm, engaging, and comfortable with the African American audience. We literally began to feel he was one of us. The people there were amazed to see this white Southerner so comfortable around blacks.
We’re talking about two famous individual who Congressman Lewis clearly stated had been involved with the civil rights movement dating back to the sixties. And yet when he was introducing Bill around in 1991 the other members of the Black Caucus were “amazed” that this southern white man was so comfortable around blacks? How amazing could it be if he’d been out there working on civil rights for the past thirty years? And if his wife was such an integral part of that noble effort, wouldn’t she have even merited a mention?
Somebody might want to ask the Congressman about this if they run into him.