Biden Likens MAGA Movement to Segregationists in NAACP Speech

President Biden speaks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, on May 17, 2024. Credit - Al Drago—Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden drew a parallel on Friday between Donald Trump “and his MAGA Republican allies” and segregationists in the 1950s who tried to prevent Black and white Americans from going to school together.

Speaking to Black leaders gathered at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Biden described meeting with some of the nine people who faced racist jeers and abuse to attend Little Rock's Central High School in 1957, three years after the Supreme Court ruled segregation in education was unconstitutional.

Biden said the same animus that drove segregationists to try to block those students from attending high school with white students is now emerging in “other insidious forms” such as the efforts to gut affirmative action in college admissions and strip away corporate initiatives trying to bring more people of color into workplaces.

“The Little Rock Nine were met with vitriol and violence. Today the vitriol comes in other insidious forms—an extreme movement led by my predecessor and his MAGA Republican allies, backed by an extreme Supreme Court that gutted affirmative action in college admissions. My predecessor and his extreme MAGA friends are now going after diversity, equity and inclusion all across America,” Biden said. “They want a country for some —not for all.”

Biden joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision that led to a wave of integration across the country. But even after that ruling, local segregationist leaders in many states flouted the court ruling. In an iconic showdown, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 101st Airborne Division troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect Black students facing violent threats as they attended school.

“My name’s Joe Biden and I’m a lifetime member of the NAACP,” he said, as he started his remarks. He then joked, “When I said that a little earlier to the president, he said, ‘Are your dues paid up?’ I got to check.”

Biden’s speech was part of a push to engage the African American community at a moment when his approval ratings are sagging among young Black voters. Later on Friday, Biden met at the White House with presidents of the “Divine Nine,” the influential network of Black sororities and fraternities. “I know real power when I see it,” Biden said of the Divine Nine.

On Sunday, Biden will speak at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the prestigious historically Black college that Martin Luther King Jr. attended. The event is expected to draw some protests amid unrest on campuses across the country. “I’ve got more Morehouse men in my Administration than Morehouse,” Biden said, adding that he sees historically Black colleges and universities as “vital to our nation’s progress.” After pointing out such colleges educated 70% of Black doctors and dentists in the U.S. and 80% of Black judges, Biden added: “And 100% of Black vice presidents. You got it.” Vice President Kamala Harris graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

When white supremacists rallied to prevent the removal of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, then-President Donald Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides” of the clashes. Biden has said those words convinced him to jump into the race to prevent Trump from a second term. Fighting bigotry also animates Biden’s desire for a second term, says a close White House advisor.

Biden’s remarks to the NAACP dovetailed with others he has made in recent months as he makes his case for a second term, many of which focus on the need to defend freedoms from right-wing extremists who want to roll back decades of work expanding access to education and jobs for people of color and further restrict access to abortion. “My predecessor and his MAGA friends are responsible for taking away other freedoms from the freedom to vote to the freedom to choose,” Biden said. “But I’ve always believed the promise of America is big enough for everyone to succeed.”

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