Biden's Dubious Civil Rights Arrest Anecdote - (2024)

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In his interview with SiriusXM radio’s Howard Stern, President Joe Biden revived a dubious anecdote about having been arrested as a teenager while standing in solidarity on the porch of a Black family amid a desegregation protest.

As it has in the past, the story came up as Biden recalled mulling Barack Obama’s offer to join the 2008 Democratic ticket as vice president and discussing it with his mother, who encouraged Biden to accept, as Obama had a chance to be the nation’s first Black president.

In the April 26 interview, Biden said that his mother had told him, “‘Joey, let me — remember’ — true story, she said — ‘Remember when they were desegregating Lynnfield, the neighborhood, there was 70 homes built, suburbia — and I told you — and there was a Black family moving in and there was — people were down there protesting. I told you not to go down there and you went down, remember that? And you got arrested standing on the porch with a Black family? And they brought you back, the police?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Mom, I remember that.’”

There is no evidence Biden was ever arrested, though news stories at the time do corroborate that there were incidents near Biden’s home in Delaware when he was a teenager in which white neighbors protested a Black family moving in. Biden has told the anecdote numerous times. And in some retellings, he only claims that the police drove him home, not that he was arrested.

In early 2022, after Biden boasted that he had been arrested as part of the Civil Rights Movement, fact-checkers at the Washington Post and PolitiFact looked into Biden’s multiple accounts of the story. They could not corroborate that he was ever arrested, and they dug up news articles that suggested he was not.

We couldn’t find that Biden has relayed the anecdote publicly since then, until the Stern interview.

But it is possible Biden cryptically referred to it in this exchange at a Democratic National Committee event in New York City on Sept. 20, 2022. Biden appeared to be referring to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, when he said — according to a White House transcript:

Biden, Sept. 20, 2022: And, Mr. Mayor, thank you. I — we have a similar background, except I didn’t get arrested. (Laughter.) I got stopped a couple of times, but I — (laughter) — talked my way out of it. Only time I almost got arrested was I was trying to go see Nelson Mandela in South — in —

Adams: South Africa.

Biden: — in South Africa and — and when I was at a Civil Rights march. That was the only two times. But I didn’t get arrested. They I didn’t think I was worth it.

As we have written, Biden claimed multiple times in 2020 that he had been “arrested” in Soweto while trying to see Mandela on Robben Island, where the future leader of South Africa had been imprisoned from 1964 to 1982. Biden later acknowledged that he had only been “stopped” and briefly “detained.” It was unclear to us whether, at the New York City event, Biden was referring to the Delaware incident when he said he was “stopped” but “talked my way out of it.”

We reached out to the White House press office to ask about the Delaware anecdote and whether Biden had embellished the details. We did not get a response. (Biden’s mother, Catherine “Jean” Biden, died in 2010.)

The anecdote about his civil rights history comes as the president is trying to shore up his support among Black voters.

The Varying Versions of Biden’s Anecdote

As we said, in the Stern interview on April 26, Biden said his mother recalled how some white residents were protesting because a Black family moved into the Lynnfield neighborhood. And despite her telling him not to go there, he “got arrested standing on the porch with a Black family … And they brought you back, the police.” He has told this story numerous times over the years, although sometimes with slightly different details.

The version Biden gave in the Stern interview is similar to the one Biden told during a speech in Nashville in November 2017, though in that version the protests were in nearby Graylyn Crest or Carrcroft, Delaware, not Lynnfield, as the Washington Post documented. In that telling and two others, in October 2018 and February 2020, Biden again said his mother recalled him being arrested.

But in relaying the anecdote on Dec. 13, 2018, at the University of Utah, Biden said his mother told him, “Remember I told you not to go down, and the police brought you back because you were standing on the front porch with the Black couple?'” So in that version, he was not arrested, but simply brought home by the police.

That’s similar to the version Biden relayed in a Zoom interview with Oprah Winfrey on Oct. 28, 2020: “She said, ‘Joey, remember when you were a kid and they were desegregating that neighborhood called Lynnfield, down the road from us. And there were people protesting and I told you not to go down there and you went down and the police brought you back because you were standing on the step with the Black family. You were standing with them. And the police brought you home because they thought you’d get in trouble.'”

When Biden was a teenager in 1955, his family moved to Mayfield, Delaware. That’s about a mile from both Lynnfield and Carrcroft. And there were some incidents similar to what Biden described at the time he was living there.

Newspaper Historical Record

The Washington Post unearthed two newspaper clippings describing protests over desegregation of a white neighborhood not far from the Bidens’ home.

The first is a Feb. 25, 1959, story in the Wilmington Journal that reported about 300 people gathered to protest outside a home that a Black couple had purchased in Collins Park, about 10 miles from the Bidens’ home. According to the Wilmington Journal account, three people were arrested for breach of the peace and four teenagers for possession of fireworks. Biden would have been 16 at the time, but there’s no mention of him or anyone else being arrested while siding with the family.

A week later, on March 2, 1959, the Associated Press reported another disturbance outside the Collins Park home.

“Crowds demonstrated in two different places Saturday night against the presence of a Negro family in a previously all-white housing development near here,” the AP reported. “The larger group gathered at the home of George and Lucile Rayfield, a Negro couple, who early last week moved into Collins Park four miles south of Wilmington. Some of the demonstrators scuffled with state troopers. One policeman was reported to have been hit by a stone. Four persons were arrested. Estimates of the crowd ranged from 150 to 300.”

The four arrested were “Harold Figgett, his wife and 17-year-old son, and the father’s brother, Henry. The father was charged with assault and battery on a state trooper, disorderly conduct and, along with his wife, with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The boy was charged with juvenile delinquency, and his uncle with breach of the peace and public intoxication.” So Biden wasn’t arrested there.

But there was another related incident that night closer to Biden’s home — about a mile away — at the home of the real estate agent who had sold the Rayfields the Collins Park home.

“The other gathering was at the home of Francis A. Levering Jr., in suburban Carrcroft, which is north of the city and several miles from Collins Park,” the AP reported. “Levering is the real estate dealer who sold the Collins Park home to the Rayfields for a reported $13,500. Here demonstrators set up a crude cross, three or four feet tall, and tried to set it aflame. Repeated efforts fizzled, however, and state police seized it. No arrests were made at this site.”

If that’s where Biden showed up, there’s no indication he was arrested there, either. There’s also no record to prove one way or the other whether police brought the 16-year-old Biden home because they were afraid he’d “get in trouble.”

In his 2017 memoir, “Promise Me, Dad,” Biden also tells the anecdote of his mother encouraging him to accept Obama’s offer to run as his vice president. “My ninety-year-old mother, who had watched my lifelong fight for civil rights and racial equality, put it this way at a larger family meeting the next day: ‘So let me get this straight, honey. The first African-American in history who has a chance to be president says he needs your help to win — and you said no’” (Page 60). But there is no mention of her specifically recounting his involvement supporting neighborhood desegregation as a teenager. Nor is there any mention of the incident in the chapter discussing his time in Mayfield, Delaware, in his 2007 book, “Promises to Keep.”

If we get more information, or if the White House press office gets back to us, we will update this story. But unless new evidence emerges, it does not appear Biden was arrested in relation to nearby desegregation protests. Nor is there any indication of why he would have been arrested, as all of the arrests documented in news accounts were of people protesting a Black family moving into a white neighborhood.

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Biden's Dubious Civil Rights Arrest Anecdote - (2024)


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