Delaware State University initially refuted Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s claim that he “got started out” at the historically black college, but a university spokesman has since come to the former vice president’s defense, asserting that his “got started” comment was taken out of context.
Back in October 2019, Biden made the claim at historic Wilson High School in Florence, founded in 1866 by the Freedmen’s Bureau for black children seeking an education.
“I got started out of an HBCU, Delaware State — now, I don’t want to hear anything negative about Delaware State,” Biden told the audience just before the South Carolina Democratic primary. “They’re my folks.”
But Carlos Holmes, director of news service for Delaware State, said Biden was never a student there, although he made appearances twice on campus for commencement speeches. The university is on of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“Vice President Biden did not attend DSU,” Holmes told The Washington Times in an email. “However he was the Commencement keynote speaker in 2003 and , and during the former he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree.”
The university, founded in 1891 as the State College for Colored Students, is about 40 miles south of the University of Delaware, where Biden graduated in 1965 with a double major in political science and history. In Biden’s 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep,” he details his time at Archmere Academy, a private Catholic school in Clayton, Delaware, to his enrollment as a freshman at the University of Delaware, but never mentions Delaware State University.
He later studied at Syracuse University College of Law, where he failed a class after being accused of plagiarism.
Biden has previously said he was the first in his family to attend college and that his relatives were coal miners, but he later recanted both assertions.
Holmes has since walked back his statement, stating that he does not believe Biden was attempting to claim that he attended the school.
“He ‘got his start’ when he announced his first run for the U.S. Senate on our campus in 1972 with then-Delaware State College President Luna Mishoe at his side,” Holmes said. “For three decades, first as U.S. Senator and then as Vice President, Joe Biden has been our advocate and partner to such a critical extent that in 2003 the University awarded him an honorary doctorate.”
The former vice president’s penchant for exaggerating his past re-emerged in February, when he told a tale about supposedly being arrested in the 1970s in South Africa as he tried to visit Nelson Mandela in prison.
Biden said he was arrested in Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg, a city in the northeast of the country. But at the time, Mandela was being held on Robben Island, near Cape Town in the southwest part of the country.
The two sites are some 900 miles apart.
After The New York Times called into question Biden’s tale, journalists were unable to find any news reports or contemporaneous accounts mentioning an arrest. Biden was a U.S. senator at the time of his claimed arrest, which certainly would have made news.
“In at least three campaign appearances over the past two weeks, Joseph R. Biden Jr. has told a similar story as he tries to revive his campaign in states with more diverse voters. On a trip to South Africa years ago, he has said, he was arrested as he sought to visit Nelson Mandela in prison,” the Times reported in its piece.
“A check of available news accounts by The New York Times turned up no references to an arrest,” the paper said. Biden also never mentioned the arrest in his memoir.
This article has been updated to include Holmes’ follow-up comments defending Biden.
Related: MORE QUESTIONS: Biden Says He Was Arrested Trying To Visit Mandela — Who Was 900 Miles Away