Black Journalist Investigates Bernie’s African American Politics

Bernie Sanders in the Deep South

By Briahna Joy GrayApril 11, 2018

Senator Bernie Sanders joins with others during an event to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last week, I joined Bernie Sanders in Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Sanders was overwhelmingly well received by both passersby and the local audiences who came to hear him speak. But so far, the media coverage of his trip has revolved around a brief aside, in which Sanders faulted the Democratic Party for its recent legislative failures:

“The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure,” said Sanders. “People sometimes don’t see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama. He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But behind that reality, over the last ten years, Democrats have lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures all across this country.”

Twitter erupted immediately, and critics, like former South Carolina representative Bakari Sellers, accused Sanders of “arrogance” and of “dismissing” President Obama. But Thursday’s critiques were only loosely tethered to Wednesday’s words, which, on their face, were fairly uncontroversial: Who could defend as successful the “almost unprecedented” loss of legislative seats over the last ten years, or Hillary Clinton’s defeat to game-show host Donald Trump? In Mississippi, when Sanders called the Democratic Party a “failure,” the audience erupted into applause. And of course, President Obama was a uniquely charismatic and brilliant president.

In fact, if Beale Street could talk, it would tell a very different story about Bernie Sanders than the now-familiar critique that

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