Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made an appeal Monday to black voters in the Deep South, stopping at a historically African American church and calling health care a “human right” that he equated to the civil rights movement.
Speaking before a racially diverse crowd at Mt. Zion Church AME Church in Alabama’s capital, Sanders renewed his calls for extending health care coverage to all Americans and reducing student debt.
“Just as civil rights is a human right, health care is a human right,” Sanders said to loud applause. The crowd for his midday speech was about half white despite the church’s deep ties to the civil rights movement.
Wrapping up a four-state swing that included stops in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, the Vermont senator is working to strengthen his support among black voters who comprise most of the Democratic primary electorate in many Southern states.
Mt. Zion’s old location played a key role in the 1950s’ Montgomery bus boycott, and Sanders criticized what he called new threats to the right to vote — “the bedrock of American democracy,” he said.
“What an outrage it is today. I’m not talking about 60 years ago, I’m talking about today, that you have Republican governors all over this country trying to suppress the vote,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Sanders toured nearby civil rights sites and visited an impoverished area of the state where residents struggle with adequate wastewater sanitation. On Sunday, he held a rally in a park in downtown Birmingham.
Sanders said full-time workers should not “live in poverty” in the wealthiest nation in the world and noted that Alabama is one of the states with no minimum wage above the federal minimum. He said the minimum wage should be raised to $15.
Sanders also touted his recently unveiled K-12 education plan, saying education should become a national priority.
“As a people, as Americans, we have got to say loudly and proudly that education is a major priority in this country,” Sanders said.
In Montgomery, Sanders was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd that chanted “Bernie!” with several people interrupting his speech to shout, “We love you!”
Sanders has previously talked up his days as a civil rights activist while a student at the University of Chicago. He has also visited Selma, Alabama, participating in ceremonies marking the anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of one of the most galvanizing moments in support of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Jeanise Murry, a 49-year-old African American nurse who heard Sanders speak Monday, said she likes some of the things he mentioned but is still deciding which candidate to support in 2020.
“It won’t be (President Donald) Trump,” Murry said.