The Struggle to ID Bernie Sanders in Civil Rights Photographs – Solved by Danny Lyon

Last week, I came across a photograph on Reddit (as one does) purporting to be of Bernie Sanders getting arrested in Selma in 1965. I quickly did a "reverse image" search, to see where else the photo had been posted, and saw MSNBC had published it in a slideshow last year on the 50th anniversary of Selma's Bloody Sunday.

The photograph (unattributed on Reddit, natch) was taken by photographer Bill Hudson. The High Museum has a photograph of Hudson's in its Civil Rights collection.

© Bill Hudson

Here's Hudson's caption:

"Three white civil rights workers are arrested by Dallas County deputy sheriffs in Selma, Ala., on Jan. 27, 1965, as they approached line of African Americans lined up to register to vote at the courthouse. Officers told them to move on and when they argued they were arrested."
While the Sanders campaign has never confirmed that Sanders appears in Hudson's photograph, his supporters keep searching for him in photographs from that era. Here's another photograph (from Selma) that purports to put Sanders on the scene, which has been debunked.

Fortunately, photographer Danny Lyon (ACP Lecture Series - 2008) has come to the rescue, with confirmation that an earlier photograph ('62/'63) from Chicago is indeed of Senator Sanders.

© Danny Lyon

"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." - Danny Lyon
CNN confirmed Danny Lyon's story on Friday, with a Sanders campaign manager appearing to discuss Lyon's account.

"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." - Danny Lyon

On Thursday, Danny Lyon discovered a contact sheet in storage at his house that had four more frames of Bernie Sanders demonstrating at the University of Chicago in 1962. What's amazing about the four photographs is Lyon's claim that "the slander that Bernie was not a very early leader for African American civil rights got so outrageous that persons went into the archives of the University of Chicago and changed captions on Danny Lyon’s 1962 photos, claiming it was Bruce Rappaport standing in Bernie’s clothing leading the demonstration in the Ad Building."

Dirty tricks, indeed!

© Danny Lyon

Over the weekend, TIME published Lyon's new contact sheet, with a summation of recent findings, including links to earlier (incorrect) stories.

Last week, Civil Rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis said about Sanders, "I never saw him, I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years -- 1963 to 1966" (and eventually walked-back the implication of his quote). Fortunately for the Sanders campaign, Danny Lyon definitely saw (and photographed) Sanders, and has the archive to prove it.

The whole episode made me remember a story from photographer Dirck Halstead about a photograph of President Bill Clinton hugging Monica Lewinsky in 1996. While there was a video screengrab of a different encounter (the beret!) Halstead's photo had a powerful clarity and eventually landed on the cover of TIME.

dirck_halstead_getty_monica_bill© Dirck Halstead

The trick was, like Lyon's photos of Sanders, the Lewinsky picture was buried in an archive:

"When the Lewinsky story broke, all these organizations started to go through their files, and found nothing. 

I hired a researcher, and she started to go through the piles of slides in the light room. After four days, and more than 5,000 slides, she found ONE image, from a fund-raising event in 1996.  - Dirck Halstead"
I suppose the lesson is that a photograph you take today might not realize its own power until thirty or forty years from now. Small comfort, but neither Lyon's Sanders photos or Halstead's Lewinsky photo had immediate value. In an age where hard drives (or a cloud subscription) enable you to (inexpensively) save everything, you just might want to save everything...

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