Former Vice President Joe Biden paid homage to a reformed segregationist at the tenth Democrat presidential debate in South Carolina on Tuesday.
“Look, a guy who was a friend of mine down here, Fritz Hollings, used to say, ‘Don’t listen to what a man or woman say they’ll do, look at what they’ve done,’” Biden said when criticizing his presidential rivals.
Hollings, who passed away in 2019, was a longtime fixture in South Carolina politics, serving first as the state’s governor, then as U.S. senator from 1966 to 2006. For the early portion of his career, Hollings was an opponent of integration, even riding such sentiments to the governorship in 1959 on a platform opposing the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which struck down segregation in public schools. Hollings kept that stance for the early portion of his term, but eventually changed course and supported integration.
It has been noted, though, that full desegregation of South Carolina’s public schools did not occur until after he left the governorship. His gubernatorial tenure was also when the Confederate flag was first raised over the South Carolina State Capitol.
In the Senate, Hollings cut a moderate to liberal profile by championing a national hunger policy and working to rein in the deficit. During his tenure, Hollings’ views on race appeared to grow and develop, as exhibited by his endorsement of Jesse Jackson in the 1988 presidential race.
The issue of race, however, continued to haunt the reformed segregationist as was evidenced in 1993, when Hollings stirred controversy by claiming African diplomats only attended international conferences so they could get a “good square meal” and not be forced into “eating each other.”
Biden, who has cited Hollings as a close friend and mentor over the years, claimed the South Carolinian’s life and views were heavily influenced by the times when eulogizing him in April 2019.
This is not the first time Biden has invoked either Hollings or other segregationist Democrats on the campaign trail. In June, the former vice president cited the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA) at a fundraiser in New York City while touting his ability to form consensus in Congress.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said at the time, with a mock Southern drawl. “He never called me boy; he always called me son.”
“Well guess what?” he 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.”