Joe Biden’s five-decade career in politics is a goldmine for political opponents or concerned voters looking to dig up quotes that have aged poorly, or were extremely bizarre in the first place. Though the excavation, thus far, has mostly concerned his worrisome policies and talking points involving busing in the 1970s, a deeply weird video from 2017 is now making a run, after Michael Harriot, a senior writer at the Root, analyzed the unlikely race dynamic at play in a meandering anecdote about a pool confrontation from the summer of 1962.
In this entry into the overstuffed genre of guys talking about fights they almost got into, Biden recalled the days when he was a lifeguard for a public pool in a black neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware. Speaking onstage at a 2017 ceremony in which the city named the pool after him, Biden described an interaction in which he called out a “bad dude” nicknamed Corn Pop — the leader of a local gang called the Romans — when he was bouncing high off the diving board. “Esther Williams,” Biden yelled to Corn Pop, referring to the synchronized swimmer and Hollywood actress. “Get off the board, man. You’re out of here.” It gets stranger from there.
The former vice-president telling a story about a near-rumble with very ’60s weapons — surrounded onstage by confused children — is very clearly a strange encounter. In the context of a primary in which critics are concerned over Biden’s ability to maintain focus in his speeches, the video carries new weight. And for Michael Harriot, the Corn Pop encounter is a perfect anecdote for the “imaginings of white people as it relates to race. Many of them have this fictionalized jigaboo version that is almost alien-like.”
Harriot is also doubtful that any of it happened, due to the details which sound like “some white kid tried to make a gang fairy tale for a sixth-grade play.” But in an example of really owning the beat, CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale provided the 2016 obituary of a Wilmington 73-year-old named William “Corn Pop” Morris, and got in touch with former Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams who confirmed that “this is the CornPop of the Biden incident.” The good news for the Biden campaign regarding the exhumation of this odd video is that voters know the front-runner is ready to handle himself in a political street fight if the primary starts to get ugly.