In former Vice President Joe Biden’s first term as a U.S. Senator from Delaware, he made an emphatic case against many of the Civil Rights Movement’s demands, like affirmative action, integration, and reparations for slavery.
One passage of the book We’ve Got People — authored by The Intercept‘s Ryan Grim — dug up a 1975 interview Biden gave to a weekly newspaper in his home state of Delaware, in which he railed against some of the biggest policy demands of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, like affirmative action and integration. According to Grim, Biden, who was elected to the Senate in 1972, wanted to establish a reputation for himself and for Democrats as a party that could win over white, working-class voters by slinging mud at policies aimed at correcting structural disadvantages that kept African Americans segregated and disenfranchised.
“I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that,” Biden said in the interview. “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”
Of the two-party system and Republicans gaining ground in the Deep South (as part of the inherently racist “Southern Strategy” devised by Republican strategist Lee Atwater), Biden said in that same interview that it was “good for the South and good for the Negro, good for the black in the South.”
Here's current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, speaking in the 1970s about how "the two-party system is good for the South and good for the Negro." Don't @ me with "out of context," cuz I've got 401 pages of context here: https://t.co/zq9LpYCyv0 pic.twitter.com/0N1OmWZVkb
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) May 30, 2019
As Politico reported earlier this month, Biden was an ardent opponent of busing in the 1970s, in which children from predominantly white neighborhoods in the suburbs were bused to predominantly black schools, while black children were bused to predominantly white suburban schools. The tactic was seen as necessary to stop segregation in public schools and to promote integration in the education system. However, Biden promised his mostly white constituents that he would be a “leading Democratic opponent” of the integration policy while serving in the Senate:
Buckling to political pressure from his white constituents who wanted to keep things the way they were, Biden established himself as a leading Democratic opponent of busing in the Senate. Concluding that busing was a “bankrupt concept,” he found himself principally aligned with consummate civil rights opponent and GOP Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who was unabashed in his commitment “to put an end to the current blight on American education that is generally referred to as ‘forced bussing.’”
…Biden supported a measure sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a former Klansman who had held the floor for more than 14 hours in a filibuster against the 1964 civil rights bill, that prohibited the use of federal funds to transport students beyond the school closest to their homes and that passed into law in 1976. And in 1977, Biden co-sponsored a measure that further restricted the federal government from desegregating city and suburban schools with redistricting measures like school clustering and pairing.
Despite his record, Biden is polling well with African American voters, likely due to his record as Vice President of the United States, in which he served as President Barack Obama’s second-in-command for eight years. However, as Politico noted, “Biden has yet to modify his previous position or seek atonement for any perceived misdeed,” despite support for reparations becoming a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.