On Sunday, hours before Bernie Sanders took the stage to debate Democratic primary rivals Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley, the candidate sat down with Killer Mike, Cornel West and Ohio State Sen. Nina Turner to discuss the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and how it dovetails with the message of Sanders' presidential campaign.
No one ever "talks about the social justice aspect of Dr. King," Killer Mike said during the interview, which was livestreamed on Sanders' website. "He was killed for many of the same reasons this man is campaigning for."
West and Turner agreed, comparing Sanders' campaign to King's crusade to end poverty. West recalled sitting in church, reading King's words. "It just made you shake and quiver and I said to myself, 'This is what the Sanders campaign is about.... It's about the poor, working people. It's about keeping track of the weak and the vulnerable. It's about mustering the courage to tell the truth about Wall Street, about wealth inequality, about decrepit schools, about the need for a living wage," he said.
On Monday, the federal holiday honoring King, Sanders traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, to tour the city's 16th Street Baptist Church, where King often preached and the site, in 1963, of a KKK-orchestrated bombing that killed four young girls. (At the girls' funeral, King called the bombing "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.")
"If we are serious about remembering [King's] legacy, we will continue the fight for racial justice, economic justice and for a nation in which all people live with dignity. We still have a long way to go," the Vermont senator said.
That night Sanders addressed voters inside Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium and via a jumbotron that was erected for the estimated 1,600 supporters who stood outside in the cold to watch the presidential candidate speak.
Sanders invoked King again during his remarks. "To truly honor Dr. King we must fight to carry out his radical and bold vision for America," he said. "He saw the relationship between racism and economics and war. That was his courage."
The auditorium, AL.com noted, often functions as a warming station for the homeless on such cold nights. Critics were quick to seize on that irony, but the city's chief homeless advocate tried to diffuse frustrations. "There is no one to be mad at," Don Lupo, director of the mayor's office of citizen's assistance said Monday.