Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis on Saturday clarified comments he made earlier this week questioning Sen. Bernie Sanders’ involvement in the civil rights movement. Lewis, who is supporting Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, had said he never met Sanders.
“In the interest of unity, I want to clarify the statement I made at Thursday’s news conference,” Lewis said in a statement from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, which endorsed Clinton on Thursday.
“I was responding to a reporter’s question who asked me to assess Sen. Sanders’ civil rights record. I said that when I was leading and was at the center of pivotal actions within the Civil Rights Movement, I did not meet Sen. Bernie Sanders at any time. The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated in the Civil Rights Movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism. Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”
Lewis had also suggested that he had known Bill and Hillary Clinton during the civil rights era, a comment he also clarified. ”If you take a look at a transcript of my statement, you will find I did not say that I met Hillary and Bill Clinton when I was chairman of SNCC in the 1960s. My point was that when I was doing the work of civil rights, led the Voter Education Project and organized voter registration in the South in the 1970s, I did cross paths with Hillary and Bill Clinton in the field. They were working in politics, and Bill Clinton became attorney general of Arkansas in the 1970s as well. That began a relationship with them that has lasted until today,” Lewis said in the statement.
The clarification comes as both Clinton and Sanders make aggressive efforts to court African-American voters ahead of primaries in South Carolina and other Southern states. Lewis is a prominent civil rights activist who still has scars from injuries he received on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. Sanders was a student organizer at the University of Chicago during the era.