Yes, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has a history of involvement in the civil rights protest movement — and Rachel Dickson ’08 has the evidence to prove it.
In the course of helping produce the historical documentary ’63 Boycott about the largest civil rights march in Chicago history, Dickson uncovered archival footage of Sanders, then 21, being arrested at a school desegregation demonstration in 1963 on the South Side of Chicago.
The discovery seemed to refute a frequent charge on the campaign trail that Sanders is a Bernie-come-lately to the civil rights movement, guilty of pandering to African American voters by trumpeting empty claims of activism.
“I think this (find) removes any doubt that he was a longtime civil rights activist,” Dickson said of Sanders. “I think it has had a big impact on the public perception of his involvement in the civil rights movement. Before, there was a lot of uncertainty.”
Dickson found film of a man resembling the young Sanders in the archives of her employer, Kartemquin Films, producer of ’63 Boycott. The footage was shot 53 years ago by Jerry Temaner, one of Kartemquin’s founders. A short item in the Chicago Tribune about the arrest of a “Bernard Sanders” stirred Dickson’s suspicion that he could be the same Bernard Sanders running for president more than a half-century later.
In an effort to identify the young man, Dickson posted a clip of her discovery online and it immediately went viral. The campaign, with an assist from Julie Doubleday ’08, a former classmate and now a Sanders campaign worker, confirmed the identity of Sanders while dozens of news media outlets requested the footage to substantiate Sanders’ bona fides.
“At first, we didn’t know if it was him,” Dickson said. “So I sent the footage to Julie, whom I knew at Kenyon, and she became really excited and sent it up the chain. A few days later the news media was all over it. Although our film is not about Sanders, the footage we found of his arrest all those years ago changed the face of this year’s presidential campaign.”
Although ’63 Boycott is not expected to be finished until early next year, Kartemquin licensed its Sanders footage to the Sanders campaign and a clip already has appeared in political advertisements. Dickson expects that the footage of Sanders will be included in the finished version of the documentary.
For the record, Sanders was fined $25 for resisting arrest.