This is a rather strange story for me. Honestly, I don’t pay that much attention to US politics these days — some of my coworkers here in Reykjavík pay more attention that me. Up until recently I didn’t even have that much of an opinion on the two candidates, and only ever saw Bernie speak for the first time when watching the last debate. I’m one of the more unlikely people to end up involved in this whole “Photogate kerfuffle” (you can read some of the past coverage on the subject here if you’re new to it).
But now apparently I am involved in it. So let’s catch up.
Sanders was involved in a variety of aspects of the Civil Rights movement, such as taking part in the 1963 March on Washington, but his main activity was at the University of Chicago. There, he became very active in the local chapter of the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), where he learned that the University — in violation of its own policies — was refusing to rent campus-owned housing to African-American students.
In response, in January of 1962 he became one of the organizers and leaders of a large sit-in that blocked president Beadle from reaching his office. The protest ended a success 15 days later when the president agreed to form a commission to study the school’s housing policies.
CORE appointed two members to be on the commission; Sanders was one of them. Shortly after announcing the commission, Beadle attempted to break his promise and refused to answer questions on his integration plan. Bernie reacted by publishing a response in the Chicago Maroon, the school’s newspaper, asking for as many students as possible to send in questions for him to answer.
Later that fall, 12 African-American members of CORE were arrested for trespass after trying to eat at a Howard Johnson restaurant. In response, CORE called for a nation-wide picket of Howard Johnson restaurants. Sanders as president of the local chapter, organized the University of Chicago’s picket
As a side note: Unlike Woolworth, which bowed to similar pressure the previous year, Howard Johnson refused to do so. Howard Johnson would ultimately prove to be one of the largest integration flashgrounds when in May of the subsequent year 850 protesters were arrested in Durham, with sporadic violence. The upheaval there and elsewhere were one of the factors that ultimately helped lead to the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
But back in Chicago, Sanders’ activism ultimately proved to be too much of a drain on his schoolwork; his grades suffered and, based on advice from the dean, he decided to take time off of school. However, he continued his involvement with CORE and SNCC; shortly after returning from the March on Washington, he took part in an anti-segregation protest at a public school on the south side of Chicago. Awaiting trial, he and other defendants sang protest songs… until a police officer made them shut up.
He got off with a $25 fine.
During the Civil Rights movement, a number of photographers embedded themselves among the protesters, documenting the movement by taking part in it themselves. Among the foremost of these was Danny Lyon, who once had to hide his photos after a police officer threatened to kill him due to the fact that he had a black father. Lyon took the above pictures of a young Bernie Sanders involved in the Chicago protest movement. These photographs became part of the University of Chicago’s photo archives, mentioning Bernie by name, and there they remained with little attention.
Until last year.
Last year, Time Magazine posted an article by Sam Frizel titled “College Alumni Raise Doubts About Bernie Sanders Campaign Photo”. Without bothering to consult the photographer, Time reported claims by friends and family of another (now deceased) member of core — Bruce Rappaport — saying that the image at the top of this article (but not the subsequent, undisputed one) is in fact Rappaport, not Sanders.
This story remained relatively low key until recently. With the South Carolina primaries looming, Sanders past has received a lot more attention, and the Washington Post picked up and ran with the “story”. This time, the main proponent has been Jonathan Capehart, writing things like “Stop physically placing Sanders where he only existed in spirit.” and simply “This is not Bernie Sanders.” More importantly, he posted an article, “Stop sending around this photo of ‘Bernie Sanders’” which took the story to a whole new level. Taking out Frizel’s ambiguity, and also failing to bother to contact the photographer, Capehart dug into the Sanders campaign for using the supposedly “fake” photograph, pressuring them for a retraction. Meanwhile, someone — supposedly a friend of Rappaport named Richard Schmitt — pressured the University of Chicago photographic archives to change their caption to indicate that it is a picture of Rappaport. They did so.
This ignited a small riot, which only grew when the photographer stepped forward, saying: "It is Bernie."
"That winter at the University of Chicago, there was a sit-in inside the administration building protesting discrimination against blacks in university owned housing. I went to it with a CORE activist and friend. The sit in was in a crowded hallway, blocking the entrance to the office of Dr. George Beadle, the chancellor.
"I took the photograph of Bernie Sanders speaking to his fellow CORE members at that sit-in. Bob McNamara, a close friend and CORE activist, is in the very corner next to me in the picture. Across the room from me is another campus photographer named Wexler, who taught me how to develop film.
"I photographed Bernie a second time after he got a haircut, as he appeared next to the noble laureate and chancellor Dr. George Beadle. Time Magazine is now claiming it is not Bernie in the picture but someone else. It is Bernie, and it is proof of his very early dedication to justice for African Americans. The CORE sit-in that Bernie helped lead was the first civil rights sit-in to take place in the North."
Now, it’s not very hard to see that the “known” picture of Bernie — him standing next to Beadle — not only looks the same as the person in the “questioned” picture, but is wearing the exact same clothes, down to the glasses:
Glasses, which note, have a distinctive pattern near the lenses which Bruce’s glasses lack. But if this isn’t enough, Lyon happened to have plenty more pictures of Sanders at the sit-in on-hand that clearly show a young Bernie Sanders, down to his distinctive haircut.
It’s not simply enough that they show Sanders at the sit-in. Because the film gives a distinctive time ordering in which they were taken. They make it literally impossible that — unless Rappaport and Sanders decided to try to switch clothes to fool people — that there is no question that the person standing and giving a speech (down to the distinctive hand-waving) is Sanders.
Yet the University of Chicago photoarchives still listed the person as Rappaport. Even worse, Capehart was using the fact that the archives had changed their caption as evidence that he was correct. So I contacted the University of Chicago, and showed them all of the accumulated evidence. They got back to me:
Thank you for your message about the 1962 CORE sit-in photos. The descriptive information for the photos has been corrected to identify Bernie Sanders as the speaker.
Daniel Meyer Special Collections Research Center
And indeed, the caption has been corrected. But what about the news articles?
First, Frizel posted simply an update to the original article, reading:
Update: On Feb. 11, 2016, Danny Lyon, the photographer who took the pictures of the sit-in posted photographs of Sanders at the same event. The rediscovered photos show Sanders seated and facing the camera, wearing a rough, dark sweater and a white shirt, similar to the activist in the disputed photo. Lyon said all the photos are in the same series, leading him to conclude that Sanders is the man in question.
“Because of the outtakes, the pictures taken before the next picture, I deduced that it was him,” Lyon said. “Did these guys switch sweaters or something? It’s Bernie.” Lyon does not remember taking the photo. To see the other photos, clickhere.
Is this correct? No. According to Lyon, it’s a flat-out falsehood:
This is Danny Lyon. Of course “I remember taking the photos”! That is not what I said on the phone to the Time reporter.
I went with Bob McNamara, a CORE activist and good friend. It was in a hall way, very crowded, so I stood in the corner. I did not sit. I shot Bernie standing (he was speaking when I got there.) I shot him sitting down. He sits next to McNamara, who is wearing glasses… Then I, standing above them, shoot the three close ups of Bernie, still in his sweater, speaking with his buddies…
Lyon also posted a picture of McNamara, in glasses and a flannel; another commenter stated that her father, Bob Brown, is Sanders’ buddy in the white sweater.
So, not a good start. But to his credit, Frizel then proceeded to publish this: “Photographer Says Disputed 1962 Photo Really Does Show Bernie Sanders”. While the article is not an apology, and nor does it explain how it didn’t occur to him to bother to contact the photographer before writing a “takedown”, it does a proper job attempting to set the record straight.
But what about the Washington Post and Capehart? Weeeell… don’t hold your breath: "Bernie Sanders and the clash of memory"
He leads off with an outdated quote from Bernie’s campaign that was made back when Capehart was insisting to them that they were wrong and before Lyon’s statements had been made public. Nice. He spends as much time focused on Rappaport’s wife as he does on the photographic evidence — including posting another picture of Rappaport, which looks nothing like the man in Lyon’s pictures.
How exactly did Capehart’s interview with Lyon go? Well, let’s see what he says:
Correct. This is Danny Lyon — He called me and asked to “record me”, which I agreed to. His main interest seemed to be to ask things like “when did the campaign contact me” (they hadn’t).
His only interest was in the “idea” that there was some kind of conspiracy to either undermine him, or created by the Sanders campaign. It was a bazaar conversation, that I almost regret having. He recorded me for at least half an hour. If he was a journalist he would immediately publish the truth, or at least admit that he spoke with the person that made the pictures, and admit that other pictures now show that this is Bernie Sanders as a young activist.
Unrepentant, Capehart — having used the University of Chicago’s previous caption alteration as evidence that he was correct, complains that the University of Chicago has reverted the caption without consulting him first:
With little fanfare and without returning my subsequent call and email on Friday, the University of Chicago, which changed the caption to Rappaport in January, switched it back to read, “Bernie Sanders speaks on the first day of the Committee on Racial Equality’s sit-in at the office of University.”
It boggles the mind how one can pretend that this is still a “he said, she said” when there is literal photographic evidence on hand, a vertitable slideshow, showing that it’s Bernie. And apparently most of the people contacting Capehart are in agreement, and have been complaining quite a bit. Capehart’s response on Twitter:
Ok. Looks like I will have to prune my Twitter feed of trolls.
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