U.S. President Joe Biden once said he didn’t want his kids to grow up in a “racial jungle” in regard to desegregation.
For years, claims have spread that U.S. President Joe Biden expressed fear in 1977 that desegregation — if not done in an “orderly” way — could result in his children growing up in “a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point.”
The quote is accurate as reported. In 2020, we contacted Biden’s presidential campaign for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. We reached out to the White House in 2024 to again see if we could get a comment and will update this fact-check if we hear back.
We found posts about the alleged quote on social media platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter) and Reddit. We also received reader mail about it back in 2020, when we first covered the claim.
Biden made the remark in 1977, when he was a U.S. senator representing Delaware. He was voicing his views on busing as part of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the subject (bolded for emphasis):
Unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point. We have got to make some move on this.
You say I am throwing the brick. I am not as good at analogies and homilies as all of you are, but I think pushing busing in a way in which it goes beyond the constitutional mandates is like throwing a bus through the civil rights window. I think it has repercussions that are extensive in terms of the ultimate objective of seeing that we get integrated neighborhoods, of seeing that we eventually eliminate job discrimination, of seeing that we change housing patterns, of seeing alteration of the tax system.
Later during the same hearing, Biden discussed the potential legacy of his actions:
We will have to judge 5 years from now whether or not Joe Biden was, as one of the other witnesses said, a George Wallace or similar to George Wallace or Joe Biden is a racist. I have to stand on that. I will be judged on that later.
As The New York Times reported in a length examination of Biden’s history with busing, the future U.S. president had become the Democratic party’s crusader against the practice.
In 1975, Biden attached an anti-busing provision to an education spending bill. His “advocacy made it safe for other Democrats to oppose busing,” according to The Times.
The Times also reported that Biden sided with Jesse Helms, the segregationist senator from North Carolina, that year when Helms sought to prevent the federal government from withholding funding from school districts that didn’t integrate.
University of Colorado Boulder law professor Daria Roithmayr, who initially uncovered the quote in 2019, told Snopes in 2020 that busing was seen as an effective way of desegregating schools, along with affirmative action, “because they were linked to the possibility of ‘big structural change,’ change that didn’t require bigger overhaul, like desegregating cities and restructuring financing for public school education. I suppose expediency is one way to describe it, but effective and pragmatic might be another way.”
Because Biden made the “racial jungle” remark, we rate this claim as a “Correct Attribution.” We’ve fact-checked other claims about purported remarks Biden has made, including whether he met with French President Francois Mitterrand long after he had died.
“Busing of Schoolchildren : Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session, on S. 1651.” HathiTrust, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uiug.30112104078842?urlappend=%3Bseq=1. Accessed 8 Feb. 2024.
Herndon, Astead W., and Sheryl Gay Stolberg. “How Joe Biden Became the Democrats’ Anti-Busing Crusader.” The New York Times, 15 July 2019. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/15/us/politics/biden-busing.html.
Liles, Jordan. “Did Biden Say He Met with Dead French President Francois Mitterrand?” Snopes, 7 Feb. 2024, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/biden-french-president/.
Palma, Bethania. “Did Joe Biden Say He Didn’t Want His Kids Growing Up in a ‘Racial Jungle’?” Snopes, 10 Mar. 2020, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/biden-racial-jungle-quote/.