Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Thursday February 11th, 2016, 7:41pm

Sanders Begins Formally Courting The Black Vote As Rep. Lewis Undermines His Civil Rights Activism (VIDEO)

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is eyeing the last voting bloc that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a seemingly firm stronghold on -- the black community.  

As the Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement of Clinton Thursday, the Sanders camp attempted to make its own impact on black voters with the release of a new ad featuring the daughter of Eric Garner, an African-American man who has killed by a New York City police officer via a chokehold in 2014. Garner was approached by police for selling loose cigarettes and his death, which was captured on video, is one in a series of police-involved killings of unarmed black men that gained national attention in recent years.

"No one gets to see their parent's last moments," Erica Garner, the victim's daughter, said in the video. "And I was able to see my dad die on national TV. They don't know what they took from us. He wasn't just someone that no one cared for him or no one loved him, he was loved dearly."

Erica Garner said she is backing Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination due to his activism.

"Our people died for this. Martin Luther King died for this. Malcom X died for this," Garner said in the video. "And who were they? They was protesters. I'm behind anyone who is going to listen and speak up for us. And I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders."

Take a look at the full ad:

"There's no other person speaking about this, people are dying. This is real, this is not TV," she added. "We need a president that's gonna talk about it. I believe Bernie Sanders is a protester. He's not scared to go up against the criminal justice system. He's not scared. And that's why I'm for Bernie."

Meanwhile, during the CBC PAC's endorsement announcement of Clinton, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA,5) downplayed Sanders' track record of civil rights activism, claiming to have never seen the senator on the front lines during the civil rights movement.  

"I never saw him. I never met him," Lewis, a civil rights icon, said. "I was involved in the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton."

Nonetheless, Sanders did take part in numerous civil rights activities and protests during the movement. In addition to attending the March on Washington, Sanders was very active in pushing for racial civil rights during his three years as a student at the University of Chicago, having participated in and led sit-ins and other actions by the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE, a group that Lewis was involved with as well. Sanders helped lead a 15-day sit-in at the university's administration building after he and a group of students learned that U of C was not renting off-campus, university-owned apartments to black students. Sanders eventually became chairman of the university's student CORE chapter, which later merged with the student chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In fact, Sanders spent so much time on CORE and SNCC efforts that his grades suffered and he was advised to take a break from protesting and organizing by a university dean. Nonetheless, he continued on with his civil rights activism work, including pushing back against the University of Chicago on its treatment of black students and rallying against the hotel and restaurant chain Howard Johnson over its refusal to serve black CORE protesters in North Carolina. In August 1963, Sanders was arrested for protesting against segregation at a school on Chicago's South Side. (See clips of old articles written by and about Sanders' civil rights work in Chicago here.)

In his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders has gained the endorsement of a number of influential black Americans, including activist and academic Dr. Cornel West, former Ohio Gov. Nina Turner, rapper Killer Mike, authors Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander, former NAACP chairman Ben Jealous, singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN,5), who made a point of clarifying on Twitter today that Clinton received an endorsement from the CBC PAC, not the Congressional Black Caucus. In addition to the CBC PAC endorsement, Clinton has garnered the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY,5) and, ironically, Eric Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, which is indicative of the generational divide between Democratic voters in the race between Sanders and the former secretary of state and first lady.

As the race heads to the southern states, with South Carolina's February 27 Democratic primary taking place after Nevada's, the candidates are focused on gaining the support of black voters, which will be critical to winning the primary elections in the south.

Clinton and Sanders, who are now in a hotly-contested race for the Democratic presidential nomination following the New Hampshire primary and Iowa Caucus, will take part in a debate Thursday evening in Milwaukee. The debate will air on PBS and CNN at 8 p.m. 

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