For one black activist group, Biden remains the front-runner

By Areeba Shah
Medill Reports

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In a tightly packed room with Joe Biden supporters stood Bernice Scott — the first African American to chair Richland County Council. Her dark blue badge, “Biden works for SC,” glinted as she swayed from side to side in sync with a gospel choir minutes before the former vice president entered the room. .

After a dismal performance in Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden stopped in South Carolina to salvage his campaign in the first primary state where black voters are a significant part of the Democratic electorate.

“You can always tell what a man is going to do with what he’s already done,” Scott said, referencing Biden’s previous record working with former President Barack Obama.

He already has the support of “Reckoning Crew,” a group founded by Scott more than 35 years ago to keep residents in rural parts of Richland County informed about politics. The group made up of prominent black female activists previously backed Sen. Kamala Harris, but turned to Biden after she dropped out.

He comes across as honest and straightforward, Scott added, referring to the times she met him – when he campaigned with Obama and after he lost his son Beau to brain cancer.

Joe Biden speaks to a crowd of voters in Columbia, making the case for why they should support him. (Areeba Shah/MEDILL)

“Vice President Biden is a man of his word,” Scott said. “You might not like all the words, but at least you know he’s honest and straight up and that’s what we need.”

Even as Biden remains the front-runner in South Carolina, where he’s counting on support from “the most important constituency” – the African American community – in recent polls, his standing has fluctuated.

He holds a 12-point lead, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, with billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer in second and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders third.

Still, he’s relying on his close ties to Obama and his moderate views to make a compelling case for electability when it comes to black voters in South Carolina.

“I promise you as your president, you will be partners at shaping the policy to make sure every single American has an opportunity,” Biden said during his speech. “You all leaders in the black community, you know what you do best. You know what you need, you know what your families need, and I’ve never not listened to you.”

He referenced his record of fighting red lining in the housing industry and his role in passing the Violence Against Women Act during his time in the U.S. senate, reiterating that he would continue advocating for the African American community if elected as president.

“I guess he has compassion like Bernice, you know,” said Helen Spearman, member of Reckoning Crew. “They’ll help anyone that they can. That’s the reason I’m supporting him because, to me, he reminds me of Bernice.”

Spearman, who has been a member of Reckoning Crew for 31 years, became involved after working in Richland County with Scott. When Spearman’s granddaughter was diagnosed with brain tumor at age two, she became aware of how many children suffer because they could not afford health care.

“My granddaughter is a cancer survivor, and I just relate to his feelings about his son having cancer,” she said.

Being a 67-year-old woman who experienced segregation as a teenager, Spearman believes the country is more divided now under Donald Trump’s presidency. She is not troubled by Biden’s age. He will turn 78 on Nov. 20.

“I really don’t like people talking about his age and saying he’s too old, because I’m 67. Age has nothing to do with working hard and making the world better.” she said. “When he talks, it makes me feel like he’s talking to me. It’s about making me feel like I’m worth something and I do matter.”

Even though Biden helped write the 1994 crime bill when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, leading to accusations that he contributed to mass incarceration, Scott approves.

“You can’t be right unless you make some mistakes in life,” she said.

Carol Eaddy, member of the Reckoning Crew, sits in the crowd, waiting for Biden to speak. (Areeba Shah/MEDILL)

Her friend Carol Eaddy, 64, another member of the Reckoning Crew, agreed.

“There’s a lot of people that did things back then that went along to get along,” said Eaddy, who lives in Hopkins and already calls him President Biden. “I’m not going to hold that against him because I did a lot of things myself. I wasn’t the same.”

Eaddy added that Biden is the calm after the storm that this country needs.

“Trump undid what Obama has done,” she said. “What will benefit us is bringing back what we had.”

Scott, who believes Biden has the most experience, agreed. With the country’s future at stake, she said, there is no room to take any risks with an inexperienced candidate.

“How do you solve the pain that’s in our country?” Scott asked. “How do we help get the country back on track? How do we do that? By electing Joe Biden.”

Photo at top: Bernice Scott, former Richland County Chair, poses for a photo during former Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Columbia, South Carolina Feb. 11. (Emine Yücel/MEDILL)