Joe Biden’s History on Race Relations and Civil Rights

by Kelly R. Smith

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(Uncle) Joe Biden describing Barack Obama
(Uncle) Joe Biden describing Barack Obama

Ex-Vice President Joe Biden is the Democrat party’s pick for Presidential nominee, running against President Donald Trump. Two of his main themes he is using to describe himself is being a standard-bearer for race relations and hero of the working class. But are those attributes correct or more Beltway hype? We’ll look at the former theme. We are entitled to our opinions but not our facts.

Biden’s History on His Part in the Civil Rights Movement

Biden talks of of being a prior public defender to point out his civil rights bona fides on the campaign trail. “I came out of the civil rights movement,” Biden said in February and frequently on the campaign trail.

But did he? In an article from The Intercept, we’re told that, “during Biden’s first run for the presidency, in 1987, the then-senator frequently described himself as a teenage civil rights activist, only to withdraw those claims later. More than three decades later, having served under the first black president, Biden seems to have reversed himself again, and now describes himself as a participant in desegregation protests in his youth.” Why all the flip-flops? Is it political expediency, or a truly faulty memory as his current many gaffes would have us believe?

The Intercept goes on to report Biden saying in speeches, “When I marched in the civil rights movement, I did not march with a 12-point program; I marched with tens of thousands of others to change attitudes, and we changed attitudes.”

But alas, not true again. Biden’s aides tried, unsuccessfully, to nudge him back on script, reminding him that he had not, personally, marched. He would acknowledge the “error” each time he was reminded of it and then repeat it on the campaign trail. It was just too good of a sentimental talking-point to give up.

How about this one. The Washingtonpost.com reported Biden’s quote, “This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid. I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robbens Island.

— Former vice president Joe Biden, in remarks in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 11

“After he [Mandela] got free and became president, he came to Washington and came to my office. He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’ I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’ He said: ‘You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.’”

— Biden, in remarks in Las Vegas on Feb. 16

The problem? None of it ever happened. Pure fiction. It’s a bit too elaborate to be a momentary lapse of reason and too well spoken to be one of his infamous gaffes (with a well-crafted follow-up.

Joe Biden, Integration, and Segregation

Biden seems to be on the flip-flop train on these issues as well. In 1975, he opposed the federally-mandated busing policy that was designed to terminate segregation in public schools. However, in the past few decades, he has maintained he actually wanted desegregation but believed the policy of busing would not achieve it. Last year, he stated he had voted heroically to protect busing, which is contrary to the actual facts.

According to the Washington Examiner, Biden said, “I think the concept of busing … that we are going to integrate people so that they all have the same access and they learn to grow up with one another and all the rest, is a rejection of the whole movement of black pride,” said Biden. Desegregation, he argued, was “a rejection of the entire black awareness concept, where black is beautiful, black culture should be studied; and the cultural awareness of the importance of their own identity, their own individuality.” So at this point Biden is back to the point of wanting to separate the races.

Biden was also a supporter of an anti-busing amendment offered by Sen. Robert Byrd, a senator from West Virginia and a Democrat. Byrd had denounced his racist past, which included being a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan as well as attaining the high title of kleagle and exalted cyclops of his local chapter.

“I have never, ever, ever voted for anything I thought was wrong,” said Biden to three former senior aides in Obama’s White House. “In the middle of the single most extensive busing order in all the United States history, in my state, I voted against an amendment, cast the deciding vote, to allow courts to keep busing as a remedy. Because there are some things that are worth losing over.”

Biden’s VP Choice of Kamala Harris

“There are a number of women of color. There are Latino women. There are Asian. There are — across the board. And we’re just under way now in the hard vet of going into the deep background checks that take anywhere from six to eight weeks to be done,” Biden said during a campaign speech in Wilmington, Delaware.

So, in the end, he picked Kamala Harris. There are several possible reasons both for and against this choice and it is impossible to know for anyone who’s not a fly on the wall in back-door campaign meetings. In other words, we can all look at the facts and speculate as to relevance. Historically, the choice is — what voting block a VP can bring to the table? And, what kind of attack dog is that person? This is a reasonable approach for both parties and does not use the term “dog” in a pejorative sense.

As for Harris, she’s a woman. Check. She can attack furiously. Check; especially since Biden can’t do it effectively while ensconced in his bunker “campaigning” online. Person of color? Hmm. Mom is Indian, dad is Jamaican. That’s definitely color-ish but not “Black” or “African-American.” There are a lot of Black American leaders that have a problem with this.

Furthermore, her heritage includes field-hand slave-owners. Wouldn’t this be something Biden would be wanting to distance himself from? Certainly it worked to Obama’s advantage that Michelle Obama’s ancestors were slaves. But to go from that to one’s heritage actually being slave-owners? Kind of counterproductive on Biden’s part if he wants the Black Lives Matter vote.

There has been a lot of speculation in the media that since Biden’s nomination is a done-deal and he isn’t expected to last four years, health-wise or cognitively, it’s important to have a successor in the wings that is young and radical to take over and represent The Squad and the Far Left. Is this reality or conspiracy theory fodder? I don’t know. You decide.

This has been a glimpse into Joe Biden’s history on race relations and civil rights. It is certainly not an exhaustive account of someone who’s made a career out of sausage-making politics. But it does cast a light on the fact that a penchant for flip-flopping might indeed not bode well for promises made after the votes are counted.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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