Yes, I know he’s been telling this story for years. That in itself doesn’t make it true.
There are, after all, other stories Biden’s been telling for years that don’t add up. But this one, against all odds, looks solid in its basic details.
Go watch the clip of him telling it if you missed it yesterday. Political Twitter, me included, spent much of Saturday and Sunday guffawing at the details. A black gangster named … “Corn Pop”? Head of a gang called “the Romans”? And Biden, armed with a six-foot length of chain, somehow talked the guy into not stabbing him after tempers flared at a public pool? Michael Harriot of The Root led the parade of mockery, tweeting at length about the absurdity of the details. This was obviously a case of an old white politician concocting a too-good-to-check story about how he was so progressive-minded even as a youth that he was able to make friends with black gang members.
Just one thing: It looks like Biden’s telling the truth. The detail about the chain remains uncorroborated but all the rest of it — Corn Pop, the Romans, the pool, some sort of altercation followed by reconciliation — has been vouched for by others.
Former Wilmington mayor Dennis Williams tells me this is the CornPop of the Biden incident. He says he grew up across the courtyard from CornPop in a housing project. He says CornPop, "real as the moon in the sky," was confrontational as a young man.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 15, 2019
If Morris was 73 when he died in 2016, he would have been right around Biden’s age when the alleged near-fight occurred in the early 1960s. How about the Romans? Surely Biden cribbed that from some young-adult fiction he read long ago about gangs, right? Nope — also real, notes Dale.
Some of the skepticism has been about the name of the gang or crew Biden said CornPop ran with, the Romans. Here’s an article from Delaware’s News Journal in which a local historian says there was a Wilmington gang called the Romans in the 1960s. pic.twitter.com/A4ePc4hnDX
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 15, 2019
Dale also points to this 2010 post at The Root, Harriot’s own website, for further corroboration:
For starters, nearly everyone [in Wilmington] calls [Biden] by his first name. My dad, a retired federal parole officer, and his friends, many of whom hung out at the city pool back in the day, regularly rattle off stories about “Joe.” They’d likely seen him at a community event when he was still a senator. Several of them attended fundraisers at his house or called his office to air grievances. But the Corn Pop run-in, which the vice president also recounts in his autobiography, Promises to Keep, is the one story they keep in heavy rotation.
I noted in yesterday’s post that Richard “Mouse” Smith, a friend of Biden’s who frequented the same pool and went on to become the president of Delaware’s NAACP, also remembered Biden getting into it with Corn Pop one day. He showed up in a WaPo story from this past summer, after Biden’s “busing” exchange with Kamala Harris at the first primary debate, recounting his impression of Biden as a young white lifeguard at a city pool in a black neighborhood. And he wasn’t the only one:
They loved pranking Biden. The cost to enter the pool was 10 cents, but a tiny, smack-talking teenager known as Corn Pop wanted to try a way to get his friends in free: distract the white lifeguard.
Corn Pop got Biden’s attention by talking about his mother, Smith recalled. Biden blew his whistle and demanded Corn Pop show him some respect. Meanwhile, Corn Pop’s friends jumped the fence, hopped into the water and laughed over their declared victory.
“They were testing him,” recalled Maurice Pritchett, known as Marty, who served as a lifeguard on the shift with Biden. “He had to earn their respect.”…
Eventually, Pritchett said, he earned their respect by continuing to show up. He learned some witty cut-downs to master the art of “playing the dozens,” discovering that some good yo’ mama jokes could be more disarming than blowing a whistle.
Soon, he was playing basketball with the Romans when his shift ended, and others were inviting him to dinner. He’d stay until dark and, sometimes, the kids would push the used car he borrowed from his father up the hill so he could get home.
The sonofabitch was telling the truth! Or most of it, anyway. Biden left out the detail in his story about Corn Pop being “tiny,” and I assume it’s as likely that he peed himself and Corn Pop took pity on him than that Biden really did threaten to wrap a chain around Corn Pop’s head. But the basics all appear to check out. Time for some people to apologize to Grandpa Simpson for doubting him on this one.
Nah, I’m just kidding. No one’s going to apologize. The narrative has already moved on from “Biden is obviously lying about this encounter to impress a naive white audience” to “Biden might be telling the truth but it’s problematic that he thinks this story says something important about his relationship with African-Americans.” The progressive critique that he’s been no friend to black people in his political career, be it on busing or the 1990s crime bill, requires that a charming story about a youthful Biden befriending black people at a time when interracial friendships were uncommon has to be used against him somehow. If Harriot’s suspicion that Biden is a BS artist can’t be weaponized against the former VP, the truth will be.