Academic Appropriation? Biden Appears To Claim Attendance At A Historically Black College

A tape has surfaced of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden bizarrely claiming that he “started” at a historically black college in speaking to supporters in South Carolina during the primary. Biden has never made any mention of going to Delaware State University and it is not clear why the many reporters in attendance at the event did not ask when he attended a HBCU. Indeed, he would be the first president to claim such a distinction. He might also have been inartfully referencing his start as a politician. Alternatively, this would seem like an academic version of cultural appropriation. It would seem a valid point of clarification for the media.

This story obviously created an immediate buzz among professors who tend to track academic credentials and associations of presidents and other leaders. It would certainly be a significant story if a president attended a HBCU but I am not sure what Biden meant by his statement.

Most obvious interpretation was that Biden was claiming to have been a student at Delaware State when he spoke at October 2019 town hall event held at the historic Wilson High School in Florence. The school was founded in 1866 by the Freedmen’s Bureau for Black children.  He stated “I got started out of an HBCU, Delaware State — now, I don’t want to hear anything negative about Delaware State,” Biden told the crowd, as shown on video. “They’re my folks.”


The university has stated that he was never a student there. It said that it has only records of a couple of visits as a commencement speaker.

The statement is so weird that I have tried to find an alternative meaning.  One possibility was that he got a job teaching there. However, he never claims such a position.  I am not sure when that could have happened. He became a bar member in 1969 and was elected the very next year to the New Castle County Council in 1970. Two years later he was elected to the United States Senate.

Another possibility is that he is claiming that he started his political career at the school, but again the campaign has said nothing and his own book does not mention the connection.  Did he launch his campaign for the New Castle County Council at the university? I believe the university is about 45 minutes away in Dover from New Castle.  He might be referencing his start for the Senate.  The campaign however has gone days without explaining if there was a speech launching his campaign from the university (though that would raise some issues on the use of a state school).  Absent such an explanation, the clear impression is that he attended a HCBU as a student.

Biden has been previously criticized for false claims ranging from graduating in the top half of his class to having three degrees from college to being the first in his family to attend college to coming from a family of coal miners  to being arrested in trying to meet with Nelson Mandela.

Obviously, President Donald Trump has also been regularly and correctly flagged for false statements, including denials of his prior statements. I have joined in that criticism. Yet, that is no reason to also demand accuracy or explanations from his opponent.  If President Trump made such a statement, it would have had every network and newspaper demanding clarification or proof.

The story also magnifies the concerns over the lack of serious journalism surrounding Biden, who has been routinely given softball questions and faced little scrutiny from the press corp. Interviews with Biden have been cringeworthy as reporters from major media seem to actively assist the campaign in staging favorable pressers. I could not find any reporting of this extraordinary statement when it was made in the primary. There is still little reporting. If this video is false, it is a major story. If it is true, it is an even greater story. Yet, once again, there has been virtually no coverage of the claim. I seriously do not know what to make of the story but there seems very little interest in whether Biden is the product of a HCBU or falsely claimed such a status.  Biden can simply clarify the point. As an academic, I am honestly interested in what role a HCBU played in his career and I do not believe that this is a major scandal. Yet, if it was a reference to launching his career from the Delaware State campus, it is incredibly interesting. Indeed, with the discussion of HCBU funding throughout the campaign (including in his speech), it would seem something that the campaign would have been emphasizing.


65 thoughts on “Academic Appropriation? Biden Appears To Claim Attendance At A Historically Black College”

    1. Squeeky Fromm, Girl Reporter — You need to provide some sort of introduction. As it is, I won’t watch.

  1. How much taxes did Hunter Biden pay on the $3.5 million he received from the Moscow mayor’s wife?

  2. At that point in his campaign, Biden was desperate. It was his landslide victory in South Carolina that resurrected him.

  3. Of course, the Constitution was nullified and history redirected and dictated when the tyrannical despot,”Crazy Abe” Lincoln, killed 1 million Americans.

    Earlier Resettlement Plans

    The view that America’s apparently intractable racial problem should be solved by removing Blacks from this country and resettling them elsewhere — “colonization” or “repatriation” — was not a new one. As early as 1714 a New Jersey man proposed sending Blacks to Africa. In 1777 a Virginia legislature committee, headed by future President Thomas Jefferson (himself a major slave owner), proposed a plan of gradual emancipation and resettlement of the state’s slaves. In 1815, an enterprising free Black from Massachusetts named Paul Cuffe transported, at his own expense, 38 free blacks to West Africa. His undertaking showed that at least some free Blacks were eager to resettle in a country of their own, and suggested what might be possible with public and even government support.7

    In December 1816, a group of distinguished Americans met in Washington, DC, to establish an organization to promote the cause of Black resettlement. The “American Colonization Society” soon won backing from some of the young nation’s most prominent citizens. Henry Clay, Francis Scott Key, John Randolph, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, Millard Fillmore, John Marshall, Roger B. Taney, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, Stephen A. Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln were members. Clay presided at the group’s first meeting.8

    Measures to resettle Blacks in Africa were soon undertaken. Society member Charles Fenton Mercer played an important role in getting Congress to pass the Anti-Slave Trading Act of March 1819, which appropriated $100,000 to transport Blacks to Africa. In enforcing the Act, Mercer suggested to President James Monroe that if Blacks were simply returned to the coast of Africa and released, they would probably be re-enslaved, and possibly some returned to the United States. Accordingly, and in cooperation with the Society, Monroe sent agents to acquire territory on Africa’s West coast — a step that led to the founding of the country now known as Liberia. Its capital city was named Monrovia in honor of the American President.9

    With crucial Society backing, Black settlers began arriving from the United States in 1822. While only free Blacks were at first brought over, after 1827, slaves were freed expressly for the purpose of transporting them to Liberia. In 1847, Black settlers declared Liberia an independent republic, with an American-style flag and constitution.10

    By 1832 the legislatures of more than a dozen states (at that time there were only 24), had given official approval to the Society, including at least three slave-holding states.11 Indiana’s legislature, for example, passed the following joint resolution on January 16, 1850:12

    Be it resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana: That our Senators and Representatives in Congress be, and they are hereby requested, in the name of the State of Indiana, to call for a change of national policy on the subject of the African Slave Trade, and that they require a settlement of the coast of Africa with colored men from the United States, and procure such changes in our relations with England as will permit us to transport colored men from this country to Africa, with whom to effect said settlement.

    In January 1858, Missouri Congressman Francis P. Blair, Jr., introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to set up a committee

    to inquire into the expediency of providing for the acquisition of territory either in the Central or South American states, to be colonized with colored persons from the United States who are now free, or who may hereafter become free, and who may be willing to settle in such territory as a dependency of the United States, with ample guarantees of their personal and political rights.

    Blair, quoting Thomas Jefferson, stated that Blacks could never be accepted as the equals of Whites, and, consequently, urged support for a dual policy of emancipation and deportation, similar to Spain’s expulsion of the Moors. Blair went on to argue that the territory acquired for the purpose would also serve as a bulwark against any further encroachment by England in the Central and South American regions.13

    – Robert Morgan

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