Virginia 1984: Biden Called Jesse Jackson ‘Boy’

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) is shown on NBC's "Face the Nation," in Washington, April 29, 1984. (AP Photo)
Associated Press

Former Vice President Joe Biden referred to Rev. Jesse Jackson as “boy” in 1984 when discussing his impact on the Democrat Party.

Biden, who is mired in controversy after praising the “civility” of segregationists, made the comments during an “informal news conference” in Lexington, Virginia. At the time, Jackson was running for the Democrat presidential nomination and had just bested both Walter Mondale, the eventual nominee, and Gary Hart in the Louisiana primary. The remarks were reported by the Washington Post when they occurred and recently highlighted on social media.

“He is one of the brightest guys around,” Biden said when asked how Jackson’s presidential campaign that year would impact the Democrat Party. “That boy ain’t no dummy, just like Gary Hart, that boy ain’t no dummy either.”

Biden was later forced to clarify that his remark “was not intended to be racially derogatory” and that he had also referred to Hart as “boy.”

On Tuesday, Biden elicited widespread controversy after offering praise for the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmdage (D-GA) at a fundraiser in New York City. Biden mentioned the two men while touting his ability to form “consensus,” but he did not express what they were able to accomplish together.

“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden told donors, attempting a Southern drawl. “He never called me boy, he always called me son.”

“Well guess what?” the former vice president continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

Biden’s praise of Eastland and Talmadge drew fire, as both men were segregationists that spent their careers fighting against civil rights and integration. Eastland, whom Biden has praised as a friend and mentor, was called the “voice of the white South” for his support of Jim Crow and propensity for referring to African Americans as “an inferior race.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a fellow White House contender, rebuked Biden on Wednesday for having joked about using the term “boy” when offering praise for segregationists.

“You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,'” Booker said, adding that “relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone.”


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