President Biden said parts of the United States are “backsliding” into “the days of Jim Crow,” during remarks Wednesday at the National Action Network’s national convention – one of the largest civil rights conferences in the country.
Biden delivered opening remarks focused on the state of civil rights and racial equality in the United States to the virtual convention of the organization, led and founded by Rev. Al Sharpton.
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“This organization has always been an essential voice, but never more essential than it is today,” Biden said. “Upholding and advancing the security and prosperity of health and well-being, dignity, possibilities of all Black Americans.”
“It’s at a time when the pandemic and the economic crisis continue to devastate Black communities, at a time when the cry for justice for a hundred years in the making is ringing out across our nation,” Biden said.
“At a time when parts of our country are backsliding,” he continued. “The days of Jim Crow, passing laws that harken back to the era of poll taxes, when Black people were made to guess how many beans – how many jelly beans in a jar, or count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap before they could cast their ballot.”
He added: “This is was un-American then and it’s un-American today. But you’re fighting. You’re fighting for the soul of America.”
The president has invoked Jim Crow in the past several weeks, specifically when referring to Georgia’s new voting law.
“It is reassuring to see that for-profit operations and businesses are speaking up about how these new Jim Crow laws that are just antithetical to who we are,” the president told reporters last week, after organizations and businesses pulled their events and sponsorships out of Georgia amid the passage of the voting law, which critics claim make voting more difficult for minorities.
Georgia enacted sweeping election reform earlier this month that required voter ID for absentee voting rather than relying on signature matching for verification, limited ballot drop boxes to one per county or one per 100,000 voters, expanded early voting days, and standardized early voting hours to a minimum of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a maximum of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The legislation barred outside groups from passing out food and water to those in line within 150 feet of a polling place.
The law also handed more election authority to the GOP-controlled state legislature. It states that the General Assembly is to select the chair of the state elections board, rather than the board being chaired by the Georgia secretary of state. It also shortens runoffs from nine weeks to four.
The president also invoked Jim Crow last month, while defending the Democrats’ H.R. 1 voting reform bill and their efforts to get rid of the filibuster, and as he slammed proposed reforms to voting laws in states across the country.
Biden, last month, said he agreed with former President Obama’s assessment that the filibuster was a “Jim Crow relic.”
Biden was also asked whether he worries that Republicans in states across the country proposing legislation to curb voting access could cost Democrats control of Congress during the 2022 midterms.
“I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing – this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he said.
Biden added: “This is gigantic what they’re trying to do and it cannot be sustained.”
Meanwhile, the president, during his remarks Wednesday, said he is “proud to stand” with the Black community, while touting his American Rescue Plan as a package “helping us beat the pandemic and deliver checks into Americans pockets.”
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“That law, on its own is projected to cut poverty in the Black community by 37%,” Biden said.
But, the president added, from his perspective, “it’s only the beginning.”
“My American Jobs Plan will make generational investments in rebuilding America, delivering good jobs, equity and opportunity to Black neighborhoods, that never seem to get dealt in on the American dream, replacing every lead drinking water pipe in America so that you never have to worry about another Flint,” Biden said, referring to his multitrillion-dollar spending plan.
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“We have so much work to do from criminal justice to police reform, to addressing health disparities and voting rights,” Biden said. “But I know that, together, we’re going to continue to make extraordinary progress.”
Also speaking at the virtual convention Wednesday was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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