This op-ed was submitted from Richard ‘Mouse’ Smith the former President of the Delaware NAACP and Sam Latham who is the former President of the Delaware AFL-CIO and the first African-American to hold the position.
Joe Biden will deliver two major addresses this week before African-American audiences at the 110th NAACP National Convention and the National Urban League Conference.
Progress towards civil rights, economic access and opportunity for working-class Americans, and his vision for the road ahead will certainly resonate in Joe’s remarks. And rightly so. As former leaders of Delaware’s NAACP and AFL-CIO we’ve worked with Joe respectively over the years on these issues. For decades Joe has been at the forefront of advancing and safeguarding equal rights and combating institutional racism. Now, as he campaigns for the presidency, he’s continuing to champion progressive policies in health care, education, criminal justice, climate change, and more, that all speak directly to the needs of black and brown people.
Indeed, Joe’s impact and record are incomparable and were recognized as such last year when he was awarded the 2018 Freedom Award – our nation’s highest civil rights honor. Yet, over the last few weeks, there has been much discussion and mischaracterizations about who Joe Biden really is. From his civil rights record and work to integrate Delaware’s communities to his relationship with avowed segregationists and opposition to school busing, politicians, reporters, and pundits alike have all sought to capitalize on perceived missteps in these areas.
His comments underscoring the need to reform our criminal justice system and calling attention to racial profiling were misappropriated, for example, to suggest that he’s incapable of fostering a meaningful conversation about race in America today. And his work with the segregationist Senator Jim Eastland against federally-mandated school busing in Delaware has been used to imply he opposed integration altogether and, more disgustingly, could be racist. (Nevermind the many Black leaders then and now opposed to mandated busing.)
These and other mischaracterizations are misguided and wrong.
They seek to undermine Joe’s campaign for president by incorrectly casting him as out of touch, culturally incompetent, and incapable of grasping the diversity and complexities of today. They also falsely distort the character and integrity of someone who has successfully dedicated his life’s work towards advancing civil rights and addressing systemic racism.
We Delawareans, and many African Americans around the country know who Joe is, and who he always has been. Joe has been our champion, rolling up his sleeves to take on the issues facing the Black community. He’s always willing to meet with us and listen to our concerns.
We know Joe as the 19-year old who became the only white lifeguard at an inner-city pool because he wanted to learn more about our community and our plight.
We know Joe as the ally who was there beside us to protest the Rialto Theater’s discriminatory policy to segregate moviegoers based on race.
We know Joe as the only county councilman who pushed for public housing in the Wilmington suburbs and fought against redlining and housing discrimination in order to integrate Delaware’s neighborhoods.
We know Joe as the senator who secured multiple extensions of the Voting Rights Act, sponsored the Civil Rights Act of 1990, anti-lynching legislation, and amendments to the Equal Credit Opportunity and Fair Housing Acts to combat racial discrimination. The senator who voted to create the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and against Jeff Sessions’ nomination to the federal courts. The senator who has stood with organized labor his entire career and has fought tirelessly for worker’s rights and economic opportunity for communities of color.
And we know Joe as the Vice President to our nation’s first African-American president, working with President Obama to address racial disparities in criminal sentencing. The Vice President who fought tooth and nail with President Obama to save our country from the brink of another depression and to pass landmark health care reform. The Vice President who had Barack Obama’s back during eight years of racist attacks and the ugliest smears we have seen in our politics in a generation.
Today we are faced with almost daily reminders that the progress we have made on civil rights and equality are at serious risk. Our churches are under attack, black and brown communities still face persistently higher unemployment rates, and segregation is worse in some places today than at the time Brown v. Board of Education was decided.
Joe has never been afraid to be one of the first voices speaking out for what he believes is right. He’s never backed down from speaking out when he sees the abuse of power. In a time when we were considered legally inferior, Joe saw our humanity.
That’s why Joe joined us at the pool those years ago. That’s why he has fought for and stood by our side all these years. That’s why he’s running for president.
To his core, that’s the Joe Biden we know – and the one America loves.