When he ran for president in 1984 and 1988, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had precious few prominent endorsers. Many African-American officials turned elsewhere during his first run. Though black leaders were more supportive four years later, the predominantly white Democratic establishment was spooked that he'd torpedo the ticket. They actively worked against him.
But there was one white official who was not scared of Jackson: Bernie Sanders.
As then-mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders had pursued numerous progressive policies, from property tax reform to rent control legislation. He was a proud democratic socialist, though hardly a national figure. Jackson was someone with whom he shared ideological symmetry.
Sanders' endorsement emphasized the civil rights leader’s notions of social and economic justice. “We are going to give our support to a candidate for president who has done more than any other candidate in living memory to bring together the disenfranchised, the hungry, the poor, the workers who are being thrown out of their decent-paying jobs and the farmers who are being thrown off of their lands,” Sanders declared in ‘88.
Roughly three decades later, Sanders revisited that moment. In the lead-up to the 2016 Democratic primary in South Carolina, he recalled how he'd been virtually alone among white politicians in supporting the first major black presidential candidate, while also talking up the many years he'd been advocating for racial justice during local, congressional and presidential races.
In the latest episode of Candidate Confessional, Jackson recounted the role that Sanders played during his campaigns, noting that he met with Sanders during a swing through the Northeast.
"He expressed no idea of being a national competitor at that time," Jackson said. "He was just kind of a principled guy, who saw the value of our running as having to fulfill America's dream of inclusion."
But Jackson said he saw big things for the Burlington mayor "because of his ideas." And now, reflecting on the success that Sanders has had in the Democratic primary, Jackson expressed a sense of pride that those ideas he was pushing in the late '80s have been mainstreamed.
"In many ways, Bernie is running the Jackson campaign," Jackson said, "with much more money and today's technology and much more coverage in so many ways. As we sought to broaden the base, many whites would support us but were afraid to face other whites -- these cultural walls and fears. Bernie supported us in '84 and '88."
This podcast was edited by Christine Conetta. Listen to it above or download it on iTunes. And while you’re there, please subscribe to, rate and review our show. Make sure to tune in to next week’s episode, when our guest will be former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) on his race during the tea party wave of 2010.