Senator Bernie Sanders made a campaign stop at right-wing evangelical Christian Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia after which he made a statement that will anger a lot of conservatives. The fact that a Democratic presidential candidate would even appear at a private school that is to the right of Fox News when it comes to politics is surprising, but it is proof that Bernie Sanders’ campaign is trying to talk to everyone – not just the liberal base in safe states like California or New York.
After his speech, Bernie Sanders made a remark that will have Fox News pundits apoplectic for months to come. No doubt, if he wins the Democratic nomination, it will also be the centerpiece of Republican advertising, despite the fact that it is true.
Via Talking Points Memo:
“I would also say that as a nation, the truth is, that a nation which in many ways was created, and I’m sorry to have to say this, from way back on racist principles, that’s a fact,” Sanders said during a Q&A following his speech. “We have come a long way as a nation.”
Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist, quoted from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible during his speech. The senator acknowledged early on that there were major things students of the school, which was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, would likely disagree with him on, but that he was there to try to find common ground. (Source)
While this will undoubtedly have the right-wing media and their followers up in arms, the fact is Bernie Sanders is right – this nation was founded on principles that were racist. In 1787, the “Three-Fifths” compromise was agreed upon in regards to how slaves would count towards representation in Congress. Southern states wanted slaves to count, despite the fact they could not vote, but only because it would give more power to states that depended on slavery for both labor and political clout. The young American economy, especially in states like Georgia or Virginia, relied heavily on slave labor to produce goods like tobacco and cotton. Even after the Industrial Revolution was well underway in the North in the early 1800s, the South was still primarily an agrarian economy determined to hold on to slavery rather than transition to the industrial age.
We can try to whitewash over those shameful parts of America’s history all we want, but our country has a documented history of denying the right to vote not only based on race, but on gender as well. For many decades, the only people who had the right to vote were white men, and even after slavery was abolished, the South made it extremely difficult for black Americans to cast a ballot.
After the Civil War, the 13th and 14th Amendments were passed and granted additional protections for citizens who weren’t white men, but the former Confederate states were required to ratify those as a condition in order to regain representation in Congress. The 15th Amendment stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
This should have been the end of the issue, but it wasn’t. Once federal troops withdrew from the former Confederate states at the end of the Reconstruction Era, white supremacy returned with a vengeance. Even before Reconstruction ended, many southern whites were determined to maintain supremacy over the millions of freed slaves and these efforts often resulted in violent clashes like the Opelousas Massacre in 1868 or the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874.
However, many states implemented poll taxes and impossible literacy tests which persisted until the Voting Rights Act. In Louisiana as recently as 1964, black voters were often forced to take a nearly impossible “literacy test” that even Harvard students could not successfully complete in 2014. It wasn’t until almost a hundred years after the Civil War that blacks could vote without state impediments and it took another 40+ years for this country to elect its first black president.
Granted, we have made some progress towards racial equality, but we still have a long way to go. Bernie Sanders is right, this country was founded on racist principles and there are many issues even today that conservatives would like to pretend do not exist. The private prison industry, racial profiling and police brutality are remnants of the racist principles of our past that must be solved if we want true racial equality in the country our children and their children will inherit.
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