An emotional Biden calls out white supremacy, slams Trump and Haley at Black S.C. church

President Joe Biden denounced white supremacy and Republican attempts to rewrite America’s racial history as he made his pitch to Black voters, vowing to continue having their backs, during a visit to South Carolina ahead of the first Democratic primary of the 2024 election. 

On Monday, Biden delivered remarks at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where nine Black parishioners, including the church’s pastor, State Senator Clementa C. Pinckney, were tragically murdered by a white supremacist gunman in 2015.

The president said the racist mass shooting had “no place in America” and is a remnant of the “poison of white supremacy” that has “haunted” the nation for too long.

As vice president at the time, Biden accompanied former President Barack Obama as he eulogized the victims of the 2015 massacre, known as the Emanuel Nine.

On Monday, the president commended the families of the Emanuel Nine for their “act of forgiveness” and “grace” following the racist attack and warned that the darkness of that day continues to be a threat to Black communities and American democracy as Republican lawmakers and leaders aim to “whitewash history” through lies, hate and political violence.

Though he did not mention any specific names, Biden appeared to call out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, whose administration severely altered or outright banned the teaching of aspects of Black history in public schools. Biden also called out presidential candidate Nikki Haley without naming her, referencing the former governor of South Carolina’s recent flub in failing to say slavery was the cause of the U.S. Civil War. 

Former U.N. ambassador and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign town hall event at Hilton Garden Inn on Dec. 28, 2023, in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

“Let me be clear for those who don’t seem to know: slavery was the cause of the Civil War,” said the president. 

And while Confederate sympathizers have long embraced the “lost cause” myth that the Confederate Army’s war against the Union Army was about heroism and patriotism, Biden said “there’s no negotiation” about the fact that it was about the enslavement of Black people.  

Though Haley touted her action to remove the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate in the South, from the state capitol following the murders of the Emanuel Nine, Democrats have argued that she only did so under immense pressure. Biden made clear that it was the Emanuel AME Church’s “courage” that “changed hearts” and eventually led to the flag being brought down.

In her response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2016, Haley refused to call the shooting at Emanuel AME racist or call the shooter a white supremacist. Instead, she alluded to Black Lives Matter protesters, arguing that after the racist attack, South Carolinians “didn’t have riots, we had hugs.”

Biden reserved his most critical remarks for former President Donald Trump, his likely Republican opponent in the 2024 presidential election. The president slammed Trump for pushing a “second lost cause” by falsely claiming he lost the 2020 presidential contest to Biden due to voter fraud. 

The violent and deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was a result of Trump supporters being “whipped up by lies from a defeated former president,” said Biden. 

“His actions were among the worst dereliction of duty by any president in American history,” said Biden, adding, “Losers are taught to concede when they lose, and he’s a loser.”

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to guests during a rally at Clinton Middle School on Jan. 6, 2024, in Clinton, Iowa. Iowa Republicans will be the first to select their party’s nomination for the 2024 presidential race when they go to caucus on Jan. 15, 2024. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The president also walked through actions he’s taken to better the lives of Black Americans, including shepherding a low Black unemployment rate, increasing Black wealth and health coverage for Black Americans, investments to replace contaminated lead pipes, and establishing high-speed internet in Black communities that have been left behind.

“President Biden’s visit to South Carolina is a show of gratitude to the community that made his presidency possible — both the Charleston community and the broader Black community,” said Markus Batchelor, national political director at the progressive advocacy group, People For the American Way. “Visiting Mother Emanuel was a powerful message about the stakes in this election — hate versus compassion, progress versus moving backward.”

“Unlike Haley, [Biden] laid bare the issue of race as real and fundamental to the unrest we’re seeing in the nation,” added Batchelor. “He didn’t mince words about the real threat white supremacy has and continues to pose to our communities and our democracy.”

U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who accompanied Biden during his Monday trip to the Palmetto State, told theGrio that the president’s remarks build on his televised speech last week at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania on the threat Trump poses to America’s fragile democracy. 

Biden, he said, highlighted the contrast between him and Trump, “who sees himself as an autocrat, as a dictator, and is telling the American people, if you give me this office back again, I will be your retribution.”

The 83-year-old congressman, who famously saved Biden’s 2020 presidential election when he endorsed him during the primary cycle that year, said Black voters, and all voters, should be horrified by the potential resurgence of a Trump presidency. 

He referenced Trump’s embracing of white nationalists who protested in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he called them “very fine people” and more recently referred to convicted Jan. 6 insurrectionists as “hostages.”

Clyburn said lawmakers, voters and the media have to “stop pampering” Trump, comparing him to Adolf Hitler, who he said was treated similarly in the 1930s before the rise of Nazi Germany. 

(Left to right) Vice President Joe Biden is introduced by U.S. Representative James Clyburn at the CBC Spouses 17th Annual Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts at the Nuseum Museum on Sept. 24, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

“[When] they looked around, they had a dictator rather than the chancellor,” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen here if we don’t wake up.”

Referring to the small percentage of polled Black voters who say they would consider voting for Trump, Clyburn said he was particularly concerned about some Black people who are “seeking some favor from Trump” rather “than being free.”

“…After the Civil War, there were even Black people who seemed to be comfortable being enslaved so long as they could get favor from the master,” he explained. “That’s the kind of thing that we’re up against here.”

The first test of President Biden’s reelection bid will be on Feb. 3 during the primary election in South Carolina, where Black voters were credited for resuscitating his 2020 campaign.

Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina native, argued that a lot is riding on voters, particularly Black voters, to defeat white supremacy. He noted that the FBI reported a rise of white supremacy in recent years, and white Christian nationalism, which he called an “incubator” for “white supremacy, bigotry, and hate.” 

The best way to combat the threat of white supremacy is at the ballot box, he said. 

“We have to deal with those things head-on and remind folks that they are a threat to communities that look like ours,” Seawright told theGrio. “And it’s not just the surface-level stuff; it trickles down into policy and politics.”

Despite concerns about Black voters, particularly young voters, becoming disillusioned with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Seawright expressed confidence in Black voters’ ability to see the clear difference between them and the Republican presidential field. 

“Black people are casting the survival vote,” he said. “Every single time we’ve had to step up and save our communities, save our families, but also save this democracy, we’ve always done that at the ballot box.” He added, “I don’t think this election will be different.”

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Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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President Joe Biden spoke out against white supremacy and Republican efforts to rewrite America’s racial history during a visit to South Carolina before the 2024 Democratic primary. He delivered remarks at the Emanuel AME Church, where nine Black parishioners were killed in a racist mass shooting in 2015. Biden commended the families of the victims for their forgiveness and criticized Republican lawmakers for attempting to “whitewash history” through lies and hate. He specifically called out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and presidential candidate Nikki Haley for their actions and statements related to Black history and the Civil War. Biden also criticized former President Donald Trump for falsely claiming the 2020 election was rigged and inciting the violent January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He highlighted his actions to improve the lives of Black Americans and emphasized the importance of Black voters in defeating white supremacy. South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn echoed Biden’s concerns about the threat of a Trump presidency and emphasized the importance of Black voters in the upcoming election. Other commentators also stressed the significance of the Black vote in combatting white supremacy.

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