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President Joe Biden discusses reproductive freedom April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. (AP) President Joe Biden discusses reproductive freedom April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. (AP)

President Joe Biden discusses reproductive freedom April 23, 2024, at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone April 29, 2024
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson April 29, 2024
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 29, 2024

Joe Biden repeats False tale that he got arrested during Civil Rights era

If Your Time is short

  • Since 2018, Joe Biden has repeatedly told a story about being arrested during a desegregation protest in Delaware during the Civil Rights era.

  • Biden’s recounting of the anecdote has varied and sometimes he doesn’t say he was arrested.

  • We found no evidence that Biden was arrested. 

President Joe Biden has a track record of spinning tall tales about his past, including some that PolitiFact has rated False or Pants on Fire. 

In an April 26 interview on "The Howard Stern Show," Biden told the talk radio star that he got arrested decades ago while protesting in defense of civil rights.

Biden said his mother encouraged him to accept Barack Obama’s invitation to be his 2008 running mate by reminding him of the stance Biden took while young when a civil rights flare-up happened in the suburban Delaware community of Lynnfield, near where Biden’s family lived at the time.

Biden said that his mother said: "‘Remember when they were desegregating Lynnfield, the neighborhood? There was a Black family moving in and there was people were down there protesting; I told you not to go down there and you went down, remember that? And you came and got arrested standing on the porch with a Black family? And they brought you back, the police?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, Mom, I remember that.’"

Biden said his mother used the moment to point out that all these years later Biden had the chance to help Obama become the first Black U.S. president.

We have heard this story before. 

In January 2022, while speaking at an Atlanta campus shared by two historically black colleges, Biden invoked civil rights battles and said, "It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested."

When we asked the White House in 2022 to clarify what arrest he was referring to, Biden’s team pointed us to excerpts from three speeches Biden has given involving a 1950s incident in Delaware in which people gathered to protest the sale of a home to a Black couple.

Police were called to the home as hundreds of people protested outside. There were a few arrests, but there is no record of Biden being arrested. We rated Biden’s statement False

It was not the first time Biden shared a falsehood about his arrest history. In 2020, Biden said he was arrested in South Africa in the 1970s, a statement we rated Pants on Fire. Biden was stopped at an airport when he was traveling with African American colleagues but we did not find he was arrested, and Biden later walked back that part of his story. 

Following the Stern interview, we emailed Biden spokespeople to ask whether they had additional evidence about Biden being arrested in Delaware in the 1950s. We recieved no response.

Some people were arrested in protests near Biden’s childhood home

Newspaper articles confirm there were protests at two homes near where Biden was living in Delaware in 1959. The larger protest, in Collins Park, was at the home of a Black couple. The second protest, in suburban Carrcroft, was at the home of the real estate broker who had sold that couple their home. Biden’s family home in Lynnfield was about 9 miles from the Collins Park home and a short walk away from the Carrcroft home, according to Google Maps. 

Featured Fact-check

The News-Journal, a Wilmington newspaper, reported on Feb. 25, 1959, that seven people were arrested following the Collins Park protest — three men for disturbing the peace and four teenagers for possessing fireworks.

A March 2, 1959, Associated Press article said that a 17-year-old — described as the son of a "Harold Figgett" — was arrested for juvenile delinquency and was among four people arrested that Saturday. (Biden would have been 16 then.) It also mentioned seven earlier arrests. No arrests were made at the Carrcroft protest, the AP reported.

Biden has told different versions of the U.S. arrest story

Biden has not always used the term "arrest" when telling this story. He has sometimes said police brought him home. Other details vary from telling to telling, including his age at the time.

At the Economic Club of Southwest Michigan on Oct. 16, 2018, Biden recounted a story similar to what he told Stern.

"She said, ‘Joey, remember at 15 years old and that real estate agent sold a house to the Black couple in Lynnfield.’ … This was in suburban sprawl, the neighboring neighborhood. ‘I told you not to go down there because of the protests, and you went down and you got arrested because you were standing on the porch with the Black couple?’ I said, ‘Yeah, Mom. I remember that.’"

At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Las Vegas, Nevada, on Feb. 16, 2020, Biden again used the word "arrested." The Washington Post Fact Checker found that Biden said his mother said, "Joey, remember when they desegregated the neighborhood called Lynnfield? You were 13, I told you not to go there, all those people were protesting, and you got arrested standing on the porch with the Black family?’"

At the University of Utah on Dec. 13, 2018, Biden said his mother said, "’Remember I told you not to go down, and the police brought you back because you were standing on the front porch with the Black couple?’"

During an Oct. 28, 2020, Zoom interview with Oprah Winfrey, Biden used similar language in quoting his mother, saying she said the police "brought you home," rather than "arrested" him,  the Washington Post Fact Checker reported

Biden’s 2017 memoir, "Promise Me, Dad" did not include mention of an arrest. But he did write that his mother spoke to him about Obama wanting Biden as his running mate and that his mom had "watched my lifelong fight for civil rights and racial equality."

Our ruling

Biden told Stern that he "got arrested" while protesting against desegregation.

Biden might have been present as a teenager when there were housing discrimination protests near his Delaware home. And although Biden has been telling this story in one version or another for many years, his spokespeople have not provided evidence of an arrest, nor have we found a record of his arrest. 

We rate this statement False.

PolitiFact Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article.

Our Sources

PolitiFact,  Evidence scant that Joe Biden was arrested protesting for civil rights, Jan. 13, 2022

Yahoo, President Joe Biden Says He Was 'Arrested Standing On The Porch With A Black Family' April 27, 2024

Oprah Daily, Oprah Helped Democratic Nominee Joe Biden Surprise a 94-Year-Old Voter, Oct. 29, 2020

The White House, Remarks by President Biden on Protecting the Right to Vote, Jan. 11, 2022

PolitiFact, Joe Biden’s Pants on Fire claim about his arrest in South Africa, March 4, 2020

The Washington Post, Joe Biden’s shifting recollection on his civil rights activities, June 12, 2020

The New York Times, Biden’s first run for president was a calamity. some missteps still resonate. June 3, 2019

USA Today, "Fact check: Did Joe Biden get arrested in an Ohio U. women’s dorm in the ’60s? May 22, 2020

C-SPAN, Former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden Interview, Dec. 13, 2016

YouTube, Joe and Jill Biden Collection on Letterman, 2007-2012

Real Clear Politics, Sen. Joe Biden's farewell speech to the Senate, Jan. 15, 2009

The Associated Press, Protest Negroes Moving Into White Housing Development, March 2, 1959

The News Journal, Police Guard Negroes in Collins Park, Feb. 25, 1959

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Biden claims yet another arrest for which there’s little evidence," Jan. 13, 2022

Joe Biden, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, 2017

Email interview with Ric Simmons, Ohio State University law professor, Jan. 13, 2022

Email interview with Mark Osler, law professor at the University of St. Thomas, Jan. 13, 2022


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Joe Biden repeats False tale that he got arrested during Civil Rights era

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