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John Lewis Softens Stance on Sanders

Civil rights leader John Lewis softened his dismissal of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ work in the 1960s on behalf of racial equality.

Lewis, a Georgia congressman who has endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, had said about Sanders’ role in the movement: “I never saw him. I never met him.”

Two days later on Saturday, he felt compelled to clarify his remarks “in the interest of unity.”

“The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Sen. Sanders participated,”Lewis said, and “neither was I attempting to disparage his activism.”

As the campaign swung South to South Carolina after early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders’ team rolled out a television ad extolling his commitment to civil rights and saying “no president will fight harder to end institutional racism.”

South Carolina’s Democratic primary is Feb. 27, followed by others across the South in states with predominantly African-American Democratic voters. Sanders trounced Clinton in New Hampshire after a tight finish in Iowa, two states with a less diverse electorate.

On his campaign website, Sanders says he has a “long history of fighting for social equality and the rights of black Americans — a record that goes back to the early 1960s.”

While a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was involved in the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He also was arrested while protesting segregation.

Lewis, a leading figure in the Freedom Rides through the South, lunch counter sit-ins and the 1963 March on Washington, had made his remarks about Sanders at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday where members of the Congressional Black Caucus’ political action committee delivered a strong endorsement of Clinton.

But in his statement Saturday, he said, “Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Sanders noted his endorsement of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential bid as evidence of his record on supporting black candidates.