cornel west bernie sanders
Social justice activist and scholar Cornel West participates in a protest outside of a suburban St. Louis police station in Ferguson, Missouri, on Oct. 13, 2014. Getty Images/Scott Olson

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ success as a foil to front-runner Hillary Clinton is a direct result of his strongly progressive stance on the issues, says Professor Cornel West, the Vermont senator’s most high-profile African-American supporter. Sanders will find more traction for liberal causes than veteran civil rights leader Jesse Jackson did when he ran for president a generation ago, West told the Guardian.

West, a prominent civil rights activist, author and scholar, has followed up his endorsement of Sanders last month by hitting the campaign trail with the Democratic socialist candidate and drawing the comparison to Jackson’s historic but unsuccessful bids for the party’s nomination in 1984 and 1988. “The Sanders campaign is even more progressive than Jackson’s were, because his critique of Wall Street is more direct,” West said in the Guardian interview last week.

Sanders doesn’t give rousing speeches like Jackson, a lauded orator and formidable challenger to Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988 and defiant voice of opposition in the era dominated by Ronald Reagan. And what Jackson had then that Sanders does not is strong support among African-American voters, despite the candidate’s recent meeting with Black Lives Matter leaders and West’s endorsement.

As potential draws for black voters, West pointed to Sanders’ proposals for criminal justice reform, including new legislation to phase out private prisons that senator introduced in Congress. Among Sanders’ other attractive policies are free tuition at public universities, single-payer health insurance and getting rid of tax loopholes for the richest Americans.

The support will come when the African-American community is more educated about his candidate, West told the Guardian. “That’s what we are going to get – once black people find out who Brother Sanders is,” he said.

Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination is still an uphill battle. But he has overtaken Clinton in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire and chipped away at her national lead.

“In my mind, the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement will recognize that Brother Bernie is much stronger on people, on economic justice, and on racism than any other candidates,” West told the Guardian of the popular social justice movement.

Bernie Sanders Presidential Candidate Profile | InsideGov