Sanders Tells Black Voters U.S. Must Confront 'Institutional Racism'
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And let's turn from the economy to politics and the challenge for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. To win the Democratic presidential nomination, he'll have to do really well beyond the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. On March 1 comes Super Tuesday, when a dozen mostly Southern states will hold presidential primaries and caucuses. And in many of those states, African-Americans are key voters. Sanders spent last night in Birmingham, Ala. celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. From member station WBHM, Gigi Douban reports.
GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: Back in 1963, when he was a college student, Bernie Sanders attended the March on Washington. That left an impression on him. And in a way, he sees himself keeping the mission of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. alive.
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BERNIE SANDERS: We must fight to carry out his radical and bold vision for America.
DOUBAN: At a rally in an arena in downtown Birmingham, Sanders said the country must confront what he called institutional racism.
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SANDERS: To create a country which provides economic, social and environmental justice for all.
DOUBAN: At the end of his speech, he spoke out against police brutality, calling for an end to, quote, "militarized police." And if this was meant to appeal to African-American voters in Alabama, there was just one problem. In an audience of thousands, there were relatively few African-Americans there.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This way unless you want to go on the floor.
DOUBAN: Just before the rally, I caught up with Margaret Kidd of nearby Shelby County. She's 64, and this is her first political rally. She might not have been there if not for the fact that her son is heading the Sanders campaign in Alabama.
MARGARET KIDD: And he is really spreading the news in the African-American community. So we are here to see for ourselves what Bernie Sanders is really all about.
DOUBAN: She says as candidates go, she knows Hillary Clinton better. But that's mostly because of Bill Clinton. Kidd says hardly anyone in her neighborhood or at her church knows about Sanders.
KIDD: Vermont, those cold states up there, we don't know very much about down here in the nice warm South.
DOUBAN: Christina Wilson is a freshman at Alabama State University, a historically black college. She came to the rally on a charter bus with about 30 other students. What does she know about Sanders?
CHRISTINA WILSON: Honestly, I don't know much. That's one of the main reasons why I'm here because I don't know much.
DOUBAN: At least some African-Americans at the rally knew about Sanders. John Roberts, a college student in Birmingham, has been following him for a while. Roberts is pretty sure Sanders' plainspoken style can win support in the African-American community over time. So where were most of the African-Americans?
JOHN ROBERTS: I don't have no idea, but I'm here. (Laughter).
DOUBAN: And for now, that was good enough. For NPR News, I'm Gigi Douban in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.