Joe Biden's story of confronting a gang leader named 'Corn Pop' while working as a lifeguard in 1962 draws skepticism

  • Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has a story he’s repeated a few times about a run-in with a gang leader named “Corn Pop” while he worked as a lifeguard at a black pool in 1962.
  • Biden’s story, which veers toward fantastical, resurfaced on Twitter over the weekend, thanks to a skeptic analysis of whether it actually happenedtweeted out by TheRoot.com senior writer Michael Harriot.
  • A video from 2017 circulated of Biden sharing his bizarre tale, which involved him facing off against a straight-razor-wielding Corn Pop while Biden armed himself with a length of chain cut from the pool’s deep end.
  • The pool in question now bears Biden’s name, as the Joseph R. Biden Aquatic Center in Wilmington, Delaware.
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Twitter gathered round this weekend for a tale from former Vice President Joe Biden about a gang leader named “Corn Pop.” Biden, the Democratic frontrunner candidate for president, has told a story from his days of lifeguarding at a black pool in 1962 multiple times, but it resurfaced on social media thanks to a compelling analysis from TheRoot.com senior writer Michael Harriot.

“I’m always astounded by the imaginings of white people as it relates to race,” Harriot wrote on Twitter. “Many of them have this fictionalized jigaboo version that is almost alien-like. And one of the greatest examples of this ever is Joe Biden’s story about Corn Pop the gangsta.”

Harriot goes on to explain that the story, which Biden recounted in his 2007 autobiography and was publishedin The Washington Post, has some unlikely plot points, especially when considering historical context.

When telling his story, Biden has said that he worked as the only white lifeguard at the Prices Run swimming pool in Brown-Burton Winchester Park in Wilmington, Delaware. The pool has sincebeen renamed the Joseph R. Biden Aquatic Center – at the dedication ceremony, Biden told the story again, and video of his retelling also circulated on Twitter.

In some instances, Harriot wrote that Biden frames his story by explaining that he wanted to work at a black pool “in hopes of learning more about the black community.” Biden also said he was popular among pool-goers, because most of them hadn’t talked to a white person before.

This, as Harriot points out, is suspicious, becausethe census from Wilmington in 1960 shows the town was 73% white. Biden goes on to say that a group of gang members called “The Romans” came to the pool, including the gang leader Corn Pop. Biden says he yelled at Corn Pop to stop bouncing on the diving board, calling him Esther Williams, after the famous 50s female swimmer.

After Biden insulted Corn Pop, the gang leader supposedly said he’d meet the future vice president outside his car when he got off work. Biden says Corn Pop showed up with three guys and straight razors, but that a white mechanic working at the pool cut a six-foot length of chain from the line that separated the deep end for Biden to arm himself with.

Read more: If everyone except for Biden, Bernie, and Warren dropped out of the 2020 race right now, Biden would be the clear loser

In the video from the pool renaming ceremony, Biden also explains that the straight razors wielded by Corn Pop and his fellow gang members were rusty, since that was apparently a common method of street fighting at the time. Biden says he apologized to Corn Pop for calling him Esther Williams but insisted that he couldn’t mess around on the diving board. And that, apparently, made Corn Pop close his razor and decide to be friends with Biden.

Harriot casts plenty of doubt on the story, which he wrote “sounds like some white kid tried to make a gang fairy tale for a sixth-grade play.” He also pointed out that if Biden had really been threatened, he probably would have called the police rather than confront a rusty razor with six feet of pool chain.

At the same pool renaming ceremony, former NAACP President Richard “Mouse” Smith gave his own firsthand account of the incident, since he was apparently there, too. He commented that Biden used some “colorful” language when urging Corn Pop to get off the diving board.

Given that the incident in question happened over 50 years ago, there’s no doubt that some of the facts may have slipped Biden’s mind. As Harriot commented, “Now I don’t know how it works where you live, but in my hood, you don’t actually get a laminated street credential card from the neighborhood thug council but, then again, I’ve never been on the mean streets of Wilmington.”

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