By Andy Christian Castillo
University of Chicago, 1962: Civil turbulence swept through the campus hot on the heels of the national black rights movement; driven by staunch idealism, students protested the segregation of off-campus university housing—the forefront of student-led protests around the country.
The University’s discrimination spurned public outrage which culminated in a 15-day protest outside of a campus administration building. Among the protesters, soon-to-be-president of the Congress of Racial Equality (protest organizer), a pissed-off 19 year old Bernie Sanders who said this:
“We feel it is an intolerable situation when Negro and white students of the university cannot live together in university-owned apartments” (Bernie Sanders).
After his speech, along with 32 other students, Bernie entered the building and camped outside University President George W. Beadle’s office–performing the first racially-charged sit-in in Chicago history.
A year later, he led a picket against the race-based discrimination of a local Howard Johnson restaurant.
And again, when the expanding school tried to push residents out of the predominately black Hyde Park neighborhood, Bernie was there with an army of protesters.
He angrily wrote to the local paper:
“To attempt to bring about a ‘stable interracial community’ in Hyde Park without hitting, and hitting hard, the segregation and segregation mentality that exists throughout this city, is meaningless. Hyde Park will never solve its racial problems until these problems are solved throughout the city” (Bernie Sanders, Marron).
At age 21, he bought a bus ticket to Washington, D.C. and attended the March on Washington, where he heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech that inspired the nation.
On that cloudless day in August, 1963, Bernie heard Dr. King Jr. say:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (MLK, “I Have a Dream”).
No doubt encouraged by those famous words, that summer he organized a rally to protest the segregation of Chicago public schools; during the protest he was arrested and found guilty of instigating and resisting police.
The judicial transcript is as follows:
“The 159 were arrested during demonstrations at four locations during which they protested alleged segregation in the city’s public schools … found guilty … Bernard Sanders, 21, of 5411 University ave” (Chicago Tribune).
Even then, he didn’t stop. In a scathing letter to the University of Chicago administration, he demanded women’s freedom and equality—a letter that brought a heated and polarized reaction from students and faculty alike.
Bernie Sanders was radical before it was cool.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, he became interested in politics early on, heavily influenced by his Jewish heritage; he later said:
“A guy named Adolf Hitler won an election in 1932. He won an election, and 50 million people died as a result of that election in World War II, including 6 million Jews. So what I learned as a little kid is that politics is, in fact, very important” (Bernie Sanders, Wikipedia).
As early as high school, his unrelenting solidarity with underprivileged populaces was nothing short of inspiring. He ran for class president at the James Madison High School in New York City—in a campaign based on scholarship fundraising for Korean war orphans.
A solidarity that continues today at age 74–more than 56 years after he ran for class presidency, and his message is the same; in a 2015 speech in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Bernie said this:
“[We] need to simultaneously address the structural and institutional racism which exists in this country, while at the same time we vigorously attack the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality which is making the very rich much richer while everyone else — especially the African-American community and working-class whites — are becoming poorer” (Bernie Sanders, Common Dreams).
Call him what you will, but do not call him silent.
Andy Christian Castillo is the Founder of Ver・ism(s). He is a military veteran and student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, pursuing a degree in English. In his free time, he plays music, writes poetry, gallivants around the world, climbs mountains and runs through the pouring rain.
Image via politico.com