Biden delivers expansive speech on race, says silence on hate 'is complicity'

Image: Joe Biden speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convent
Joe Biden speaks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party state convention in Manchester on Sept. 7, 2019. Copyright Gretchen Ertl Reuters file
By Allan Smith and Mike Memoli with NBC News Politics
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"There can be no realization of the American Dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery," Biden said.


Former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday made his most expansive speech yet on race, calling on the nation to live up to its founding ideals and saying that silence on racism amounts to complicity.

Delivering the a keynote address at services marking the 56th anniversary of the bombing of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four young black girls, Biden told churchgoers, "there can be no realization of the American Dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery."

Biden used his address to highlight prominent hate crimes of the past decade, including the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the 2015 mass shooting black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

"Now hate is on the rise again, and we're at a defining moment again in American history," Biden said.

The former vice president said the U.S. has yet to live up to its promise of equality for all, and that any silence in the face of such hatred "is complicity." He repeated an assertion he made at the onset of his campaign that the country is "in a battle for the soul of America."

"The domestic terrorism of white supremacy has been the antagonist of our highest ideals from before the founding of this country," Biden said. "Lynch mobs, arsonists, bomb makers, lone gunmen — and as we all now realize, this violence does not live in the past."

Biden said he believes, as was the case after the Birmingham church bombing, which was among a number of major events in the civil rights movement that led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the mid-1960s, that Americans "are ready" to "take another step" in response to recent hate.

He said that while "those of us are white try, but we can never fully, fully understand" the struggle black Americans have faced, "we have to work to bring this country together."

The vice president, who served alongside the nation's first black president, enjoys strong support from black voters. But his speech comes as he himself has been scrutinized for his legislative record on busing and criminal justice and his past statements on racial issues.

This summer, Biden has come under criticism for June comments fundraiser about his past work with segregationist senators decades ago and, more recently, for an answer he delivered at Thursday's presidential debate in response to a question about reparations and the lasting effect of slavery. Biden responded in part that social workers are needed to "help parents deal with how to raise their children" because "they don't know quite what to do," suggesting solutions such as keeping a "record player" on at night so that young children can learn more words.

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