African-Americans saved his failing candidacy and sealed his unlikely nomination last spring. His recent appointments, and the COVID assistance package, offer them a boost.

Author of the article:

Andrew Cohen

James Clyburn (R-SC) announces his endorsement for Joe Biden on Feb. 26, 2020 in North Charleston, South Carolina, three days before the primary in that state. Photo by Drew Angerer /Getty Images If there is one constituency that won the presidency for Joe Biden, it was Black Americans. They saved his failing candidacy and sealed his unlikely nomination last spring. In the fall, their support was decisive in battleground states.

In Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania – the blue wall Biden rebuilt – the heavily urban Black vote made the difference for the Democrats. It was particularly critical in Georgia, which later gave the Democrats control of the Senate.

When venerable Congressman Jim Clyburn endorsed Biden in the primary in South Carolina, the single most influential act of the 2020 campaign, Biden understood the size of his debt. Blacks delivered for Biden and Biden had to deliver for them.

It began with making Sen. Kamala Harris his vice-president. He had decided on her early and the other auditions were summer theatre. It wasn’t accidental they were other Black women: former UN ambassador Susan Rice, Representatives Karen Bass and Val Demings, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, legislator Stacey Abrams.

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By winning the presidency, Biden made Harris his putative successor; it is no small thing for a somnolent, septuagenarian president likely to serve only one term. That unprecedented step alone would have been enough for some Black Americans – as grateful Jews say of their divine blessings at Passover – but Biden did more: in the most diverse administration in history, he has placed Blacks in leading positions.

They include Secretary of Defence (Lloyd Austin), Secretary of Housing (Marcia Fudge), and Ambassador to the United Nations (Linda Thomas-Greenfield). Also, the heads of the Domestic Policy Council (Susan Rice), the Environmental Protection Agency (Michael Regan) and the Council of Economic Advisers (Cecilia Rouse). Many are the first Blacks in those offices.

Biden has reportedly promised Clyburn he will name a Black woman to the United States Supreme Court when a vacancy opens. Biden signalled his commitment to honour his promise this week when he announced his first 11 nominees for the lower courts. They include three women of colour, including Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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There are people, of course, and there is policy. In a country seized by a racial reckoning – facing grave questions of police brutality as the accused killer of George Floyd stands trial – Biden understands the need to make real progress on issues important to Black Americans.

Among them are Black farmers, for decades victims of systemic racism and discriminatory lending practices. In the $1.9 trillion U.S. COVID assistance package, there is between $5 billion and $9 billion for Black farmers. This is extraordinary. The money will wipe out their federal debts and help them stay on family farms. It is an historic step to save Black farmers, who have fallen in number from one million to 40,000.

Blacks have long called the Department of Agriculture “the last plantation” for wilfully ignoring them. Championed by Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, the agricultural relief program will forgive loans and assist farmers who suffered as white farmers, under Donald Trump, received generous subsidies.

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Critics are calling these payments “reparations.” In a sense, they are, and a congressional committee has begun examining the broader issue. The size, form and allocation of reparations for centuries of slavery and segregation will be a minefield. But expect to hear more about them.

As Biden embraces a progressive agenda, everything he does has Blacks in mind. With the new COVID relief, Blacks benefit because they have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. In infrastructure support – a byword for rebuilding roads, bridges, parks and schools – Blacks will benefit because they overwhelmingly live in cities.

But the biggest issue facing Blacks is the assault on voting rights. As Republicans in Georgia and other states rush to re-district, gerrymander and restrict minority voting, the Democrats will have to respond – even if it means ending or changing the much-vaunted filibuster in the Senate.

It will be an electric moment for Joe Biden and Black America – and Jim Clyburn will be watching.

Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor at Carleton University and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

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