Joe Biden’s Corn Pop story explained: ‘Corn Pop was a bad dude’

Bruno Cooke November 13, 2020
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

What is the Joe Biden Corn Pop story? A story from Biden’s youth, which he recounts during a speech, has resurfaced now he’s been announced as president-elect of the US. It all began when 19-year-old Joe Biden worked as a lifeguard at an all-black pool in Wilmington, Delaware…

1962: Teenage Joe Biden confronts Corn Pop

“100 years ago… when I was in high school…” So begins Joe Biden’s tale of an interracial quarrel, all the way back in 1962.

Biden’s autobiography – Promises To Keep: On Life And Politics – tells of a narrowly avoided spat between the future POTUS and the leader of the Romans – the biggest gang in Wilmington, Delaware. 

Biden was working as a lifeguard at the time and told the gang leader not to sit on the diving board.

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Prompted to tell the story during a speech at the very leisure centre at which it happened, Biden obliged.

Biden’s upbringing in Jim Crow-era Delaware

It was a different time, Biden explains. And truly, it was. “I didn’t know any black people. You didn’t know any white people either,’ he says to a crowd of black youth listening to his speech.

Biden’s neighbourhood was undergoing a demographic shift at the time. A large interstate road development had forced many black families into a group of housing projects at the bottom of a hill. They called it “the bucket”.

The local pool became a hangout for neighbourhood gangs and Biden, who worked there as a lifeguard, was the only white employee. 

He recalls learning a lot from his black co-workers – about the segregation and discrimination they experienced. Then he moves on to talk about an incident involving a young man known as Corn Pop.

What happened between Corn Pop and Joe Biden?

According to Biden’s story, Corn Pop was a local gang leader. “Corn Pop was a bad dude. He ran a bunch of bad boys,” he says.

One day Corn Pop was sitting on the diving board – where he shouldn’t have been – and wearing a bathing cap to protect the pomade in his hair.

Joe Biden continues the tale. “I said, ‘Hey Esther [as in Williams, the synchronised swimmer and Hollywood starlet], you, off the board. I’ll come up and drag you off.’” 

Corn Pop allegedly responded by saying: “I’ll meet you outside”. At the end of his shift, Biden went out to his car and saw Corn Pop “waiting there for [me] with three guys and straight razors.”

How does the story end?

On the advice of the pool maintenance guy, Biden allegedly met Corn Pop with a six-foot length of chain wrapped round his forearm.

He met him face to face and said: “First of all, when I tell you to get off the board you get off the board, and I’ll kick you out again, but I shouldn’t have called you Esther Williams. I apologise for that.”

And that, he says, was that. Corn Pop put his razor away and they became friends. The story has done the rounds several times. 

Now Biden is president-elect of the United States, this tale has come up one more time as part of the country’s curiosity about the future POTUS’ past.

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.