Former Vice President Joe Biden invoked a former southern segregationist with whom he served in Congress during a campaign swing through Ohio on Monday.
Biden, the Democrat nominee, told an audience of supporters about a former Senate colleague who offered to help with his first reelection bid by either campaigning for him or against him.
“A long time ago, a particular senator said to me–this was back when I was much younger, when I was running for my second term–he said, ‘Joe, I’ll come to Delaware and campaign for you or against you, whatever will help the most,'” Biden told the audience.
Although he did not mention the “particular senator” by name, many on social media pointed to remarks the former vice president made during a Labor Day Parade in 2016. In that speech, Biden recounted the same story but identified the colleague as the late-Sen. James Eastland (D-MS), an avowed southern segregationist.
This was not the first time that Biden has invoked the late Mississippi Democrat on the campaign trail. In June of 2019, the former vice president engendered criticism after seeming to praise the “civility” of Eastland and another arch segregationist during a high-dollar fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.
During that event, Biden told the audience assembled it was vital the next president “be able to reach consensus under our system.” To explain why he was the best candidate in that regard, the former vice president fondly cited his history of working with individuals like Eastland.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said with an attempted 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.”
The comments provoked outrage at the time because of the infamous reputation that Eastland forged during his decades in public office. Known as the “voice of the white South” for his stringent opposition to civil rights and integration, Eastland was a long-standing opponent of the Civil Rights Movement. The New York Times wrote in Eastland’s obituary that “he often appeared in Mississippi courthouse squares, promising the crowds that if elected he would stop blacks and whites from eating together in Washington. He often spoke of blacks as ‘an inferior race.’”
Biden, who joined the Senate in 1972, worked closely with Eastland in opposing the issue of busing to achieve school desegregation. Letters exchanged between the two men during those early years indicate the former vice president courted Eastland, who served as chairman of the Senate judiciary committee from 1957 to 1978, in his quest to pass anti-busing measures.
“I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help during this week’s Committee meeting in attempting to bring my antibusing legislation to a vote,” Biden wrote in one letter dated from June 1977.