Politics

Fact Check: Joe Biden’s History On Busing And School Desegregation

In response to recent statements from former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign regarding the history of busing and school desegregation claiming that “many in the African American community, in the civil rights community were saying busing was not the best way to integrate schools. And frankly that’s been borne out today,” Justice Democrats is releasing the following information regarding Joe Biden’s history on the issue.

school desegregation
janeb13 / Pixabay

“As Senator, Joe Biden was routinely criticized by civil rights leaders over his position on busing and desegregation,” said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, and Waleed Shahid, communications director of Justice Democrats. “When Joe Biden could have apologized for being on the wrong side of history, he doubled down and appeared angered by Senator Harris’ remarks at the debate. Her argument, and his campaign’s refusal to own up to his past, made clear that Joe Biden lacks the leadership needed to govern America through a series of historic crises today.”

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New York Times Editorial Board in 1975 Calls Biden’s Anti-Busing Amendment “Real Threat To Gains of the Sixties”

“The expressed intent of Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, sponsor of the amendment, is to throw the entire burden of school desegregation back into the Federal courts.

The principal tragedy of the Biden amendment, should it survive, is that it would signal a major crumbling of Federal determination to achieve equal justice.

It has been demonstrated in cities from Little Rock to Pontiac that where there is a clear will to enforce the law, substantial social progress can occur. It is equally clear that where the will is flabby, the nation's worst instincts come to the fore.

The Biden amendment is thus a real threat not only to the gains of the sixties, but to decency in this society. Congress will be advancing the cause of justice by eliminating it from the bill.” [NYTimes Editorial Board, 09/19/1975, “Undoing Justice"]

Civil Rights Activists in 1975 Launch Campaign to Overturn Biden’s Anti-Busing Amendment

“Biden said his amendment was designed to prevent 'Federal bureaucrats' from ordering busing...civil rights lobbyists began an immediate campaign to overturn the Biden amendment and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare said in a memorandum to Senators that the amendment went beyond prohibiting the department to order busing and could curb other desegregation efforts, such as getting a school district to agree voluntarily to end all‐black or all-white classes within a school.” [NYTimes, 09/24/1975, “Senate Liberals Fail to Shut Off Debate On a Measure That Would Curb Busing"]

NAACP Directly Attacks Biden In 1977 Over Busing and School Desegregation

“But at the same time, they tell of what they feel to be several negative developments. Among them, according to Mr. Jones, are ‘the torrent of antibusing amendments cropping up in Congress, especially by some senators we used to think were our friends.’ He named Senators Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, and Thomas F. Eagleton, Democrat of Missouri.  [NYTimes, 09/04/1977, “Chicago to Attempt to Integrate Schools After Success in Other Cities"]

NAACP In 1978 Says Biden’s Anti-Busing Position Weakens Civil Rights and Affirmative Action

“‘We are declaring war on all attempts to weaken or destroy affirmative action and civil rights enforcement,’ Mr. Hooks said, ‘and this includes such things as the attachment of riders and amendments onto bills such as the Eagleton‐Biden amendment and the Walker amendment.’

The Eagleton‐Biden amendment seeks to prevent the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from enforcing the provisions of affirmative action plans that call for the busing of pupils to achieve racial balance in schools.

‘The worthiness of every candidate for public office in the fall and succeeding elections shall be tested by their position on the question of affirmative action,’ Mr. Hooks said. ‘Those elected officials who do not support affirmative action will be dealt with at the ballot box.’” [NYTimes, 07/23/1978, “N.A.A.C.P. Plans a Lobby Effort On Affirmative Action Programs"]

Civil Rights Leaders In 1978 Challenge Constitutionality of Biden’s Anti-Busing Amendment

“The problem facing the Administration grows out of an amendment that prohibits the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from ordering the use of busing to remedy, school segregation. Sponsored by Senators Thomas F. Eagleton, Democrat of. Missouri, and Joseph R. Biden, Democrat of Delaware, the amendment is the third and most restrictive law on the subject passed by Congress in the last three years.

A coalition of civil rights groups challenged the constitutionality of the law in a brief filed with the Federal District Court; here last December. The groups are now urging the Justice Department to support their view, placing the Administration in a difficult position...

Specialists generally agree that the Eagleton‐Biden amendment will have a crippling effect on the H.E.W. Department's ability to force desegregation of Northern school systems.”

‘We can't get an effective remedy without using some transportation,' said David Tatel, director of the Office of Civil Rights in the department. 'The districts are as big and the black areas are so large that, without busing, all we can do is desegregate the edges.’" [NYTimes, 02/08/1978, “School Busing Amendment Poses Legal Problem For White House"]

Biden Joins Southern Senators, Opposes Liberal Democrats On Busing Votes

In his anti-busing efforts, Joe Biden often voted with Southern Democrats and against liberal Democrats.

In 1977, Biden opposed Senator Mike Gravel’s motion to table an amendment from North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to “Prohibit the Busing of Children for the Purposes of Desegregation During a National Energy Crisis.” Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy and George McGovern opposed Biden’s position.

Representative Rashida Tlaib tweeted about Biden's opposition to Gravel's motion this morning: "This is proof that your votes on these MTRs & Rules (many unconstitutional, unAmerican) will come back to haunt you decades later. It's called accountability."

In 1979, Biden voted in favor of Senator Jesse Helms’ amendment “Prohibiting the Use of Funds by the Department of Justice to Bring Legal Action to Require the Forced Busing of Students.” Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, and Carl Levin opposed Biden’s position.

In 1980, Biden joined southern Senators Herman Talmadge and Strom Thurmond in voting in favor of Senator Helms amendment “Prohibiting the Department of Justice From Promoting Forced Busing as a Remedy to School Desegregation.” Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Carl Levin opposed Biden’s position.

In 1981, Biden again joined Strom Thurmond in voting in favor of an amendment “Prohibiting the Department of Justice From Maintaining Suits Involving Directly or Indirectly the Mandatory Busing of School Children and Establishing Reasonable Limits on Power of Courts to Impose Injunctive Relief Involving the Transportation of Students.” Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Chris Dodd, and Carl Levin opposed Biden’s position.

Department of Health, Education and Welfare Memo in 1975 Says Biden’s Amendment Threatens Civil Rights Act Enforcement

“The battle began last Wednesday, when the Senate voted, 59 to 43, to add an amendment by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., a liberal Democrat of Delaware, barring the use of any funds in the bill to require schools, as a condition to receiving Federal aid, “to assign teachers or students to schools, classes or courses for reasons of color.”

"A memorandum from H.E.W., said that the amendment could prevent its Office for Civil Rights from enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 'with respect to a host of discriminatory practices unrelated to the subject of busing.' For example, it said, the amendment could prevent the agency from requiring a school to end racial segregation in classrooms.” [NYTimes, 09/25/1975, “A Curb On Busing Voted by Senate"]

Civil Rights Leaders Angered In 1976 That Democrats Won’t Fight for Busing and Affirmative Action

“Mr. Jordan, Representative Burke and other black leaders cited several indications that candidates were ignoring black issues—contentions that correspondents who cover the candidates generally confirm: The failure of most candidates to make civil rights issues a major part of campaign rhetoric at a time when black leaders feel that candidates should be taking the lead to counter voter conservatism on the busing issue, among others, or what the blacks regard as public negativism on black, minority and urban problems.”

‘The politicians have evaded and skirted the issues and nobody is putting them on the spot,’ Mr. Holman said. ‘They are being shielded by their supporters and by their aides.’ ‘Too many of them are afraid of quotas and busing. They say they believe in affirmative action, but not in quotas. They believe in fair housing, but not in knocking down covenants. They believe in integration, but not in ‘forced integration.’ That burns me,’ he continued. ‘How can you have any law if the power of force is not behind it?’” [NYTimes, 02/08/1976, “Blacks‘ Issues Are Slighted In Campaign, Leaders Say"]

Jesse Jackson Says In 1981 People Who Oppose Busing are Opposing Desegregation

“‘'It ain't the bus, it's us,'’ said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who heads Operation PUSH, a Chicago-based civil rights organization. '’Busing is absolutely a code word for desegregation. The forces that have historically been in charge of segregation are now being asked to be in charge of desegregation.’”

“‘'Given these figures, it is clear that busing is not the real issue,'’ said Mr. Tatel, the former desegregation official who now practices law in Washington. '’For many, busing has become a code word for desegregation. Some of the same people who take their children out of schools because of busing put them back on buses to take them to private schools.’'” [NYTimes, 07/18/1981, “Rights Activists Fear Desegregation Will Be Slowed By Busing Opposition"]

Civil Rights Leaders in 1981 Say Reagan Administration’s Attacks on School Integration Began with Joe Biden

“The attacks on busing began with the opposition of the Nixon Administration to busing; it did not, of course, begin with the Reagan Administration or the current, more conservative, more Republican Congress.

In 1978, for example, Senators Thomas F. Eagleton, Democrat of Missouri and Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, attached a successful restriction to the Department of Education appropriations bill, prohibiting the agency from terminating funds to school districts where compliance with desegregation orders would require busing students to schools beyond the one nearest to their homes.

The action effectively took away from the agency its most effective tool for forcing recalcitrant school districts into compliance with the law. Proponents of the new restrictive proposals assert that the proposals are not designed to inhibit school desegregation.”

"Senator Helms, for example, says that the United States Constitution '’forbids segregation but does not require racial balance in the nation's schools.’” [NYTimes, 07/18/1981, “Rights Activists Fear Desegregation Will Be Slowed By Busing Opposition"]

Polling on Busing in 1981

“A Gallup Poll published in February, for example, showed 60 percent of blacks favoring busing and 30 percent opposed. At the same time, 78 percent of whites opposed busing and 17 percent favored it.

A Harris Poll published last March found that 54 percent of the parents whose children were in busing programs found those programs very satisfactory and 33 percent found them partly satisfactory.” [NYTimes, 07/18/1981, “Rights Activists Fear Desegregation Will Be Slowed By Busing Opposition"]

Top ACLU Official In 1975 Vocally Supports Busing At Event With Joe Biden in Audience

“‘When you get through all your statistics, it all boils down to ‘I hate niggers,’ Mr. Morgan told the sociologists. He said he was for busing because it is ‘a good way to get to school’ and said the reason schools must be integrated is simple: ‘White folks ain't going to put their money where their children ain't. It's just that simple...’”

“Mr. Preyer discussed his proposal and was one of three Congressmen attending the session. The others were Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, and Representative Romano L. Mazzoli.” [NYTimes, 12/07/1975, “Lawyers, Sociologists Debate Busing"]

In 1974, Coretta Scott King, Defends Busing in Boston

“She told the gathering that the problem plaguing the Boston public school system in the wake of the Federal desegregation order was not really busing.

'Can anyone believe that people using or condoning violence as well as vulgar racial epithets are making a democratic protest against busing? No. They are making an undemocratic assault on equality,' she said.

For that reason, she said, it is important for everyone, including those not fully committed to busing, to oppose attacks on school children and on desegregation.” [NYTimes, 12/01/1974, “Mrs. King Defends Boston Busing"]

NYTimes Describes Biden As A Centrist in 1986, Citing Busing Position

“Democrats, [Biden] says, have put the narrow agendas of special interests ahead of the national interest and have been guilty of ‘intellectual snobbism.’

Biden's critics say he is more style than substance, contending that even after 13 years of grappling with national and international issues in the Senate, he does not have a clear political identity. He has been a strong supporter of civil rights bills but has long opposed busing as a means of achieving school desegregation. He has taken positions on both sides of the abortion issue, although women's groups say he generally has voted against a woman's right to choose. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he established himself as its leading authority on nuclear arms control, but he now admits he has temporarily dropped the issue ''because it's not going anywhere'' in the Reagan Administration. ' [NYTimes, 05/18/1986, “From Biden to Babbitt to Nunn"]

Leading Historian on Busing Says Opposition To Busing Was About Race

“Describing opposition to busing as something other than resistance to school desegregation was a move that obscured the histories of racial discrimination and legal contexts for desegregation orders..."

"'I have probably talked before 500 or 600 groups over the last years about busing,' Los Angeles Assemblyman Floyd Wakefield said in 1970. 'Almost every time, someone has gotten up and called me a ‘racist’ or a ‘bigot.’ But now, all of the sudden, I am no longer a ‘bigot.’ Now I am called ‘the leader of the antibusing effort.’”

"White parents and politicians framed their resistance to school desegregation in terms like 'busing' and 'neighborhood schools,' and this rhetorical shift allowed them to support white schools and neighborhoods without using explicitly racist language." [Dr. Matthew Delmont, 03/29/2016, “The Lasting Legacy of the Busing Crisis"]


Justice Democrats is a grassroots, small-dollar funded progressive organization founded by former staff of the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign. Justice Democrats recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress and endorsed Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley in 2018. The organization also pushed rejecting corporate PAC donations, Medicare For All, Abolish ICE, and a Green New Deal inside the Democratic Party in 2018. Justice Democrats have recently announced two primary challengers for the 2020 cycle: Jessica Cisneros against Henry Cuellar in TX-28 and Jamaal Bowman against Eliot Engel in NY-16.