Posted on February 1, 2019

Joe Biden Embraced Segregation in 1975, Claiming It Was a Matter of ‘Black Pride’

Alana Goodman, Washington Examiner, January 31, 2019

Joe Biden, weighing a 2020 White House bid, once advocated continued school segregation in the United States, arguing that it benefited minorities and that integration would prevent black people from embracing “their own identity.”

Biden was speaking in 1975, when he opposed the federally mandated busing policy designed to end segregation in schools. In the past few decades, he has claimed he wanted desegregation but believed the policy of busing would not achieve it. Last year, he stated he had voted heroically to protect busing.

In 2008, after being chosen as Barack Obama’s vice-presidential running mate he said: “The struggle for civil rights was the animating political element of my life.” He appears poised to make his civil rights record a centerpiece of any campaign, telling an audience in Fort Lauderdale this week that “I came out of the civil rights movement. He added that he first became aware of what an “awful thing” segregation was as a third grader, when he asked his mother why a bus was taking black children to a school away from where they lived.

But 44 years ago, facing a backlash against busing from white voters, the future vice president voiced concerns not just about the policy of busing, which he had supported when first seeking election in 1972, but about the impact of desegregation on American society. He argued that segregation was good for blacks and was what they wanted.

“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.”


[Read: The transcript of NPR’s October 1975 interview with then-Sens. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Edward Brooke, R-Mass.]

Biden’s comments were made in an NPR interview discovered in congressional archives by the Washington Examiner. {snip}


Ronnie Dunn, an urban studies professor at the University of Cleveland and author of the book on northern segregation Boycotts, Busing, & Beyond, said Biden was making a case in favor of maintaining segregation. “That’s how I interpret that argument,” Dunn told the Washington Examiner. “That was an argument against desegregation.”


He said Biden must address the issue if he runs for president. “People have to be held accountable,” said Dunn. “We all evolve in our thinking and grow, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have to answer for our positions we held.”


Biden said in the interview, during which he was speaking with Brooke, the African-American Republican senator, that “busing doesn’t work,” but he went on to say he had a philosophical as well as a practical objection to it: Busing would lead to “a totally homogeneous society” that would be to the detriment of black people.

“There are those of we social planners who think somehow that if we just subrogate [sic] man’s individual characteristics and traits by making sure that a presently heterogeneous society becomes a totally homogeneous society, that somehow we’re going to solve our social ills,” he said. “And quite to the contrary.”


He said he met with black members of his staff and asked if they thought he harbored hidden racial prejudices. “I give you my word as a Biden, I put in over 100 hours, by far — I would say close to 300 hours — on just torturing this [anti-busing concept]. Calling my staff together, and the blacks on my staff together, saying ‘Look, this is what I think. Do you think I am [racist]? Is there something in me that’s deep-seated that I don’t know?'”

The future vice president also claimed he had been an attorney for a member of the Black Panther Party. {snip} The Washington Examiner was unable to confirm whether Biden ever served as a lawyer for a member of the Black Panthers, a claim he has not made in recent decades.


In 1974, a court-ordered integration plan thrust Wilmington into the maelstrom. Biden’s white constituents formed an angry anti-busing lobby. White parents shouted Biden down during a July 1974 meeting of the anti-busing New Castle County Neighborhood School Association, demanding to know what the senator was going to do to prevent their children from being reassigned to schools that had been majority black.


Biden shifted his position to oppose busing while insisting he was in favor of desegregation.

“It enabled Biden to choose votes over principles, while acting as if he was not doing so,” wrote University of New Hampshire professor Jacob Sokol. This sleight of hand paid dividends for Biden. He was re-elected by a whopping 16 percent of the vote in 1978. That same year, Brooke, who had never bowed to the anti-busing clamor from white voters in Massachusetts, lost the seat he had held since 1967.

In September 1975, Biden supported an anti-busing amendment to a federal bill. It was proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, a segregationist until at least the 1960s and regarded by most to be a racist. Delighted by Biden’s shift, Helms welcomed him “to the ranks of the enlightened.”

That same month, Biden trumpeted his credentials with the African-American community in his state. “I still walk down the street in the black side of town,” he told the Washington Post. “Mousey and Chops and all the boys at 13th, and — I can walk in those pool halls, and quite frankly don’t know another white man involved in Delaware politics who can do that kind of thing.”


Biden also supported an anti-busing amendment by Sen. Robert Byrd, a senator from West Virginia and a Democrat who had renounced his racist past, which included being a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan and rising to the title of kleagle and exalted cyclops of his local chapter.

Tom Atkins, a Boston NAACP leader, said in March 1975 that opposing busing was racist: “An anti-busing amendment is an anti-desegregation amendment, and an anti-desegregation amendment is an anti-black amendment.”


Biden had emerged as the first of a small group of liberal Democratic senators to support anti-busing laws in the 1970s and 1980s. He sponsored legislation on the issue, promised to fight for a constitutional amendment against the policy, and was profiled in the Washington Post as the “liberal who fights busing.”


In his 2007 biography, Biden wrote that busing was a “liberal train wreck” that “was tearing people apart” in the 1970s. “The quality of the schools in and around Wilmington was already suffering, and they would never be the same,” he wrote. “White parents were terrified that their children would be shipped to the toughest neighborhoods in Wilmington; black parents were terrified that their children would be targets of violence in suburban schools.”

But Biden recently seems to have grasped the potential political problems of his busing position and gave a very different recollection of his role in the debate on the Pod Save America podcast last March.

“I have never, ever, ever voted for anything I thought was wrong,” said Biden, unprompted, to three former senior aides in the Obama 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.”

By picking out a single pro-busing vote from an anti-busing record lasting years, Biden seemed to hope he would be viewed as an advocate for busing after all.