HYDE PARK — Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Thursday that he spent a lot of his time at the University of Chicago fighting to keep Hyde Park diverse.
During a taping of "Hardball with Chris Matthews" at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St., Sanders described his efforts with the student chapter of the Congress of Racial Equity to halt policies viewed as promoting segregation as the university snapped up residential property in the ‘60s.
“The university owns a lot of property, and back then all those apartments were segregated,” Sanders said. “So what we would do was to send a young black couple to ask about an apartment, and they would say, ‘Sorry, we don't have any.’ Then we would send a white couple, and they would say, ‘Sure, right this way.’”
Sanders said facing off against the university was one of the issues that led him to fight for other causes like segregation in the schools, which got him arrested in 1963 in Englewood.
Hyde Park author and historian Rick Perlstein, who dove into Sanders’ time on campus in the February edition of the university's alumni magazine, said it was hard to determine the extent of Sanders' role in the student investigation of discriminatory housing policies. But Perlstein found that the students of CORE, which Sanders was a member of as the chairman of the social action committee, did indeed send out white and black renters to test the university’s openness to black renters.
The university's property managers turned away black renters and welcomed white renters, prompting a headline in the college paper saying, “UC admits housing segregation.”
“In this practical and far-from-ideal world you have to move slowly enough so that you don’t lose,” university President George Beadle told the school paper in 1962. “If the university had immediately integrated all the houses in Hyde Park that it bought 10 years ago … the university wouldn’t be here today.”
Beadle’s comments led to a sit-in of 33 students outside the president’s office organized by Sanders, according to the school paper.
Some of the few pictures of Sanders during his time at the University of Chicago are from the sit-in and the following meeting with Beadle. The university president was confronted by 300 students and acquiesced to investigate the group’s claims of racial discrimination in the school’s housing policy.
Now on the campaign trail, Sanders rarely brings up that sit-in, but still talks fondly about one of his first jobs in the Chicago with the packing house union.
“Those guys were how I learned a lot about the civil rights movement,” Sanders said Thursday.
But he said he was already interested in socialist politics by the time he got involved with the civil rights movement.
“To me it was about trying to connect the dots, trying to understand what money and power was about, and the impact it had on society,” Sanders said. “Of course, it's gotten much worse since then.”
Sanders followed the Thursday interview with a rally at Chicago State University as he prepares for the March 15 primary elections in Illinois.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: