Yet he rarely discussed one of the earliest – and most controversial – issues he championed in the Senate: his fight against busing to desegregate schools.
It was more than four decades ago as a battle raged across the country – and in Congress – about sending white students to majority-black schools and black students to majority-white schools often far away from their own neighborhoods. Biden forcefully opposed the government's role in trying to integrate schools, saying he favored desegregation, but believed busing did not achieve equal opportunity. "My bill strikes at the heart of the injustice of court-ordered busing. from disrupting our educational system in the name of the constitution where there is no evidence that the governmental officials intended to discriminate, "Biden wrote to fellow senators on March 25, 1
Biden, who at the time was 34 and serving his first term in the Senate, repeatedly asked for – and received – the support of Sen. James Eastland, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a leading symbol of Southern resistance to desegregation. Eastland frequently spoke of blacks as "an inferior race." "Dear Mr. Chairman," Biden wrote on June 30, 1977. to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote. "
Two weeks later, Biden followed up with a note to Eastland" to thank you again for your efforts in support of my bill to limit court ordered busing. "
Biden, who would go on to lead the Judiciary Committee on decade later, got his start on the panel under Eastland. Few senators were more virulently outspoken against desegregation than the Mississippi senator, who were known for incendiary floor speeches on race.
Yet Biden invited Eastland to speak on the Senate floor in support of his anti-busing bill.
"I Biden wrote on Aug. 22, 1978. "Your participation in floor debate would be welcomed."
The letters, which are filed away in Eastland's archives at the University of Mississippi, offer a window into the robust nature of Biden's support or anti-busing bills.
While most of Biden's legislative efforts failed, he was not obediently observing as many fellow Democrats of the era, who sought to balance the constituents of school busing without blocking the next step in the expansion of civil rights.
When an anti-integration amendment from North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms failed, Biden proposed an anti-busing amendment of his own that rankled Sen. Ed Brooke, in Massachusetts Republican and the first black senator to be elected since Reconstruction.
"I have become convinced that busing is a bankrupt concept," Biden said during debate.
While Biden has built a strong civil rights record About the last four decades and spent eight years as vice president of the nation's first black president, his stand against busing as a method to desegregate schools – which he still stands by today – look at today's progressive Democratic Party.
Bill Russo, a spokesman for Biden, told CNN the former vice-president stands by his belief that did not achieve equal opportunities for students or provide "real answers to problems like educational inquities," including fair housing and how school district lines were drawn.
He said Biden's long record of service makes his commitment to civil rights. civil rights in America, "Russo said in a statement. "His long commitment to civil rights has repeatedly been recognized by many of the most important civil rights organizations in America."
While supported, during his 1972 campaign, he was discussed busily until many of his constituents urged him to take forceful stand against mandatory busing in the aftermath of a court-ordered desegregation plan in Delaware.
Jason Sokol, a civil rights historian and the author of "All Eyes Are Upon Us," reviewed the letters for CNN that Biden wrote to Eastland during that tumultuous time.
"At the very least, they present further evidence to suggest that Biden was quite committed to the anti-busing cause," said Sokol, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has extensively studied Biden's role in the anti-busing debate. "He was strongly opposed to busing and was very interested in the passage of the anti-busing legislation that he sponsored. It wasn't a half-hearted thing." as a champion of civil rights legislation like the expansion of the Voting Rights Act and changes to the Fair Housing Act. But he has rarely explained his views surrounding busing.
Ronnie Dunn, a professor at Cleveland State University and co-author of "Boycotts, Busing, & Beyond," said Biden's old views against busing should not be disqualifying, but warrant a broader explanation . After reviewing the letters from Biden to Eastland, said he was surprised at the degree to which Biden was soliciting support from such a known segregationist leader.
"We all evolve and grow, but we're still going to have to answer for our past records, "Dunn told CNN. He said busing certainly was popular among many black and white families, but he said history has shown integration to be a necessary measure to achieve change. "
] half-century in public life, he said he wants Barack Obama could have reached the White House if anti-busing legislation – like Biden's – would have succeeded.
" , we probably wouldn't have seen our first African American president, "Dunn said. "That social interaction helped break down the structural barriers of racism." While Biden runs for the White House twice before, his long record – on civil rights and other matters – will be examined in the context of a Democratic Party that has shifted to the left and become far more diverse. For the first time, extensive conversation is underway among democratic candidates for repairs – or the compensation of descendants of slaves.
Biden has yet to offer his view of repairs.
Yet even before he formally declares his presidential candidacy Biden's remarks about busing are already facing fresh scrutiny. A month ago, The Washington Post unearthed a lengthy 1975 interview Biden conducted with a newspaper, which at the time was entered into the congressional record.
"I don't feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather," Biden said in the interview. "I feel responsible for what the situation is today for the sins of my own generation. And I'll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago."
at the end of this month, experience is one of Biden's biggest calling cards. It is also one of his biggest challenges, given the breadth of his public service that spans a period of historic change in the United States. He's already expressed second thoughts about the 1994 crime bill and voiced regret about the treatment of Anita Hill during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas in 1991. Delaware audience: "I have the most progressive record of anybody running." And last week, he said: "I was never labeled as a moderate."
"Everybody asks me what kind of Democrat," Biden said. "I'm an Obama-Biden Democrat, man, and I'm proud of it."