Bernie Sanders Visits Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland to Pursue Black Voters

Sanders spoke to about 200 people inside the church, stressing economic equality and more access to education.

Following a pattern he began in earnest last month in New York by courting black voters at church, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders held a similar rally in Oakland on Memorial Day, about a week away from the California primary.

Sanders appeared at one of Oakland’s most influential black churches – Allen Temple Baptist along International Boulevard – on Monday afternoon with actor Danny Glover, before heading over to Frank Ogawa Plaza at City Hall later in the day. Glover had been at the church on Sunday to celebrate the 85th birthday of church patriarch, Dr. Alfred Smith Sr.

Sanders spoke to about 200 people inside the church, stressing economic equality and more access to education.

"Most people understand that technology and the economy has changed the nature of education," Sanders said. "And we have got to make public education from tuition and public colleges and universities."

NBC Bay Area political analyst Larry Gerston said Sanders' visit shows the Democratic presidential hopeful is "trying to make connections, trying to broaden his base.

"He's saying, 'You can come with me.' I think he's trying to peel off a portion of the black votes. If he can get 20 percent instead of 5 percent, that's good," Gerston said.[[381307021, C]]

Sanders' tweets on Monday also seemed geared toward issues that are big in Oakland's black community: Making sure water isn't toxic for children as a result of fossil fuel company greed - a timely subject as the city weighs whether to allow coal shipments through the port of Oakland, as well as anti-prison, anti-racial profiling messages.

Allen Temple was founded in 1919, and was the first black church in East Oakland, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party. The church has been been behind several progressive and political campaigns, including in 2010 when the church hosted a debate for openly gay mayoral candidate Rebecca Kaplan.

Hours before Sanders attended the church's event, blacks, Asians, Latinos and whites lined up to hear him. Some held Sanders signs. Perhaps surprisingly, many were still undecided but were at the church to learn more.

"If you're a mover and a shaker in Oakland, and politically engaged then you head to Allen Temple," said Randall White, 64, a church deacon and photographer. "I'm a Bernie guy. His sensibilities with economics, income and equity, align with my own political sensibilities."

White said while many blacks across the country are throwing their weight behind Hillary Clinton - and even some for Donald Trump - "the black community is not a monolithic organization." Allen Temple as an organization can't endorse any one candidate, but White said that "a lot of people here are hooked up with the progressive community."

NBC Bay Area political analyst Larry Gerston warns that Democratic divisiveness in California may extend to the national convention and beyond.

Despite White being a "Bernie guy," many blacks across the United States like Clinton more than Sanders. In March, Politico featured a piece called “Why Black Voters Don’t Feel the Bern,” saying that the senator from “lily-white Vermont” often equates being black with being poor. Politico also noted that while African-Americans vote liberal, they are not white liberals, and a far cry from the young millenials wooed by his fiery messages. Black Democrats, Politico noted, tend to be more socially conservative, pragmatic, and independent than many white politicians and pundits assume.

Visiting Allen Temple in Oakland follows an April visit - two days before the New York state primary - where Sanders spoke at a predominantly black church service in Harlem. He went to remind the congregation there that he has long worked in civil rights, and that if elected president, he would work to reform the criminal justice system, according to the New York Times.

The Vermont senator also told members of the First Corinthian Baptist Church that he learned important economic lessons from watching his parents argue over not having enough money. He also said he was moved to protest segregation as a college student because he was interested in social justice. He conjured up the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Lives Matter movement in the hopes of showing the black church his past and his philosophy.

Sanders likely isn't as popular with blacks because the Clintons have had a longer track record working on racial issues, while Sanders appears to have just appeared for a few photo ops over the years, Gerston pointed out. He added that he is not aware of any big-name Oakland politicians, black or white, who have come out to support Sanders.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has been at several past events helping Clinton, including when the former Secretary of State was in Oakland earlier this month. Curiously, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a member of Allen Temple, has not come out to endorse any candidate yet.

"He just hasn't been very active in civil rights, voting rights," Gerston said. "It's not that he hasn't taken a leadership role on these issues. It's just that as a senator, he hasn't taken a leadership role in almost anything. Yes, his sympathies seem to be with the downtrodden, but he hasn't been an outspoken leader on those issues."

NBC Bay Area's Bob Redell and Scott Budman contributed to this report.

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