Biden Rode to Victory on a Wave of Black Votes. Now Leaders Want Results.

President-elect Joe Biden met with leaders of major US civil rights groups to discuss his plans to address systemic racism, from the government to the American people.

Now President-elect Joe Biden at a Durham drive-in rally days before the election. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By Emiene Wright

December 9, 2020

Civil rights leaders played a pivotal role in delivering Joe Biden’s victory. Now they’re asking the president-elect to make good on campaign promises to fight structural disparities. 

On Tuesday, seven leaders from the NAACP and other legacy activist organizations met with Biden to discuss the new administration’s agenda for addressing racial equity. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and senior advisor Cedric Richmond, who was tapped to lead Biden’s Office of Public Engagement, joined him at the meeting. 

To cement the administration’s commitment to racial justice, the NAACP pushed for the creation of a new position—National Advisor to the President on Racial Justice, Equity, and Advancement. 

“The structural inequality that is rooted deep within our society must be addressed, and after four years of regression on social, civil, and political matters that profoundly impact the American people, specifically, Black people, we must prioritize the transformation of our nation into a more just, equal society,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP. 

“What gets done is what gets measured and what gets measured is what is to be held to account. We need dedicated people that report directly to the president,” Johnson told press following the meeting.

The African-American vote was critical to Biden’s election, as majority Black cities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit boosted his lead in key battleground states. But Biden’s initial appointments, though diverse, have prompted concerns that prominent positions in the Cabinet and White House were being reserved for white candidates. This week’s announcements helped allay some of those fears. 

News of Biden’s intent to nominate Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge as the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development spread during the meeting. Several leaders and lawmakers had lobbied for Fudge to be named Agriculture Secretary, but that appointment went to former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who held the position during Biden’s tenure as vice president. Biden also selected retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III as the first African American to lead the Pentagon. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Cecilia Rouse make up the balance of Biden’s Black Cabinet nominees, with the former tapped as UN Ambassador and the latter as Chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the Legal Defense Fund, focused on the attorney general nomination, saying the candidate must have a solid record on criminal justice and civil rights. Former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who is white, is seen as a lead contender for the role. Several leaders at the meeting, including National Urban League president Marc Morial, endorsed Ifill as a potential candidate. Later when asked, Ifill was circumspect, saying she would consider an offer “from any government I believe in to serve.” 

“I believe that my voice has value and I treasure the ability to use my voice in an uncompromised way,” Ifill added

Pushing for high-level Black appointees was only part of the meeting’s agenda. Leaders also urged Biden to back voting rights legislation, to support judges with diverse backgrounds, and to explore executive orders as a solution to inaction from a divided Congress. 

The meeting—taking place before Biden is even in office—signaled a drastic shift from the current administration’s approach to diversity. President Donald Trump and his administration have enacted or attempted to enact blatantly racist policies, most recently using executive orders to defang established fair housing guidelines and ban federal agencies and contractors from conducting diversity training.


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