At Civil Rights Memorial Service Biden Compares Past Hatred To Rise Of White Supremacy Today
On Sunday morning, former Vice President Joe Biden stood in the well of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where, 56 years ago, four members of the Ku Klux Klan detonated explosives, causing the deaths of four girls and injuring 22 others. Speaking during the Sunday school service, minutes before the 10:22 a.m. anniversary of the bombing, Biden delivered remarks addressing the hate in our country's past and the notably similar hate of today. Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, during a service commemorating the 56th anniversary of the Ku Klux Klan bombing that killed four black girls in the congregation during the height of the civil rights movement.
During the memorial service, Biden referenced this being the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving in the United States, adding, “The domestic terrorism of white supremacy has been the antagonist of our highest ideals from before our founding: lynch mobs, arsonists, bomb makers and lone gunmen. And, as we all now realize, this violence does not live in the past.”
The event provided an opportunity to reiterate the Biden 2020 campaign core message: that this election, to him, is about defeating the rise of racism and hatred and denouncing the growth of the “domestic terrorism of white supremacy.”
During the service, recalling one of the darkest days in the nation's civil rights movement, Biden told members of the church it was during that time that he stood at a crossroads in his life.
“I faced a defining moment,” said Biden, “to stay at a big law firm or leave and become a public defender.”
The same driving force that led him to step into public service and eventually multiple elected offices is, what he said, has spurred his decision to enter the 2020 presidential race.
“Charlottesville. When I saw the torches, when I heard the chants, when I saw the hate,” Biden said echoing his campaign announcement video, “I knew it was a defining moment.”
Coming off the heels of the third Democratic presidential debate in Houston, Texas, the tenor of Biden's words was remarkably different than those delivered standing alongside nine challengers waiting for the former vice president to falter. Sunday, he said the United States is currently “in a battle for the soul of this nation.”
Decades after the Birmingham church bombing, Biden linked the hatred behind the 1963 event to the same motivations of recent acts of domestic terrorism, including the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, more recently, the killings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
“We saw a white supremacist gun down innocent Latino immigrants in an El Paso parking lot with a military-style weapon declaring he would stop, ‘the Hispanic invasion of Texas’” Biden said. “We have not relegated racism and white supremacy to the pages of history.”
In a state that has supported the Republican nominee for president for the past four decades, Alabama is represented, in part, by Democrat Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate. Jones, who attended the service with Biden, and prosecuted two members of the Ku Klux Klan for their roles in the bombing during his time as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.
“Sen. Jones is here today,” Biden said from the well. “He, like many of you, never gave up on justice for Addie Mae or Cynthia or Carol or Denise. It didn’t matter to him that almost 40 years had passed. Doing the right thing doesn’t tarnish with time.”
While the stop in Birmingham will certainly shore up support for the frontrunner in the enclaved Democratic district, Biden's appearance reflects the campaign's continuing strategy to demonstrate his popularity among black voters. That backing is not completely unchallenged, however. Candidates have questioned his record on busing following the civil rights movement, his comments of working with segregationists and his recent remarks about the legacy of slavery.
But African American voters continue to coalesce behind the former vice president.
Throughout his campaign, Biden has held events at historically black colleges and churches. And the campaign has upped its presence in South Carolina, renewing its focus on black voters in the South. Earlier this summer, Biden appeared at a Democratic National Committee voting rights event in Atlanta, also headlined by a number of national black figures, including Stacey Abrams and Congressman John Lewis.
Speaking in Birmingham, he continued to pitch himself as the candidate to redefine the country's values.
“My prayer to all of us this morning,” Biden said, “is that in this moment, when our nation must again once decide again who we are and what we stand for, we’ll remember the strength of this community. Remember the moment that time stopped. And then remember everything that came after and we’ll choose once more to fight for our shared American dream.”