POLITICS

Sanders' message does speak to black voters in South Carolina -- the younger ones

For LeAndrea Montgomery, uneasy and sometimes hostile encounters with white people have occurred all too often in recent years.

The police stops while he was an undergraduate at Clemson University. The questions from security while he shopped at Kmart. The women clutching their purses as he walked by.

He’s black, 6-foot-2, with a beard and frosted-tipped dreadlocks that spiral the length of his back. He’s also a fourth-grade teacher who earned a master's degree in education administration in December.

Montgomery's candidate for president is Bernie Sanders.

"He's unfiltered, which is great," said Montgomery, 27, pausing during a recent daylong summit on empowering black youth, held on the campus of South Carolina State University.

Montgomery is especially drawn to Sanders' calls to address systemic racism and revamp the criminal justice system, where blacks make up a disproportionate share of the prison population.

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"Race relations and all the stereotyping -- that’s an issue for me right now,” said Montgomery, who had brought some of his students here for the conference.

Hillary Clinton is an overwhelming favorite to win Saturday’s South Carolina Democratic primary, in large part because of the loyalty of African American voters, who could make up half or more of the primary electorate.

But as Montgomery suggests, there is a generation gap between older blacks and younger African Americans, many of whom are gravitating to Sanders. The same generational divide exists among Latinos and white liberals.

Unlike their parents, many black millennials are unfamiliar with the Clintons -- Hillary or her husband, Bill, who was sometimes called the nation's "first black president" because of his strong relationship with African Americans.

While Hillary Clinton has won establishment support from older blacks leaders like U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, who represents Orangeburg, S.C., Sanders is finding support on college campuses and among young people inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The division is not altogether new.

Tobe Johnson, a professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, notes that Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference was at odds with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. “It’s what we’re seeing right here and now,” Johnson said.

Johne Sparkman, 19, a South Carolina state speech pathology major, also cited Sanders’ authenticity in describing his appeal. His tours of historically black colleges, which began last year, “sent a message to young blacks that we matter,” Sparkman said.

“Actions speak to me and Sanders’ actions just have a realness about them,” she said.

Centerrion Moton, 18, never had the chance to vote for President Obama, but sees Sanders as representing the same promise of hope and change. Asked if she would like to see a woman elected president, Moton said she would — but not Clinton.

“I just don’t get the feeling she’s honest with those emails and stuff,” Moton said, alluding to the controversy surrounding the former secretary of State's use of a private server for emails.

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But Rashad Anderson, who oversees the university's Black Males Project, describes Sanders’ promises as false hope.

“If African Americans want to see more progress, then Hillary is the candidate,” Anderson said.

Earlier in the week, rap artist Killer Mike, who endorsed Sanders, visited the candidate's South Carolina headquarters and urged black volunteers to help elect the senator from Vermont.

“If you want to vote to actually affect your black life, vote Bernie Sanders,” he told volunteers. “If you want to vote to keep your homies in jail, vote Hillary Clinton” -- an allusion to her support for tough sentencing measures signed by her husband in the 1990s.

At a fundraiser in Charleston this week, Clinton was confronted by a demonstrator from the Black Lives Matter movement who referenced a 1996 remark the then-first lady made about “super predators” when talking about high crime rates and violence -- a term some viewed as racist toward black teens. Clinton told the Washington Post this week that she wishes she had not used that language.

Sterling Jones, 20, who majors in mass communications, was making phone calls to get out the vote when Killer Mike spoke at Sanders' headquarters near this city’s desolate center core.

“Bernie is definitely for the young people,” said Jones, citing Sanders'  involvement in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. “He cares about the cause and wants progress. Plus, I just think what he’s saying is more honest.”

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