Reactions on Twitter went viral Sunday after a writer challenged a story Joe Biden often tells about how he successfully confronted an armed black gang member named “Corn Pop” at a swimming pool — after calling him a woman.
Michael Harriot, a senior writer at The Root, kicked off the ruckus Saturday tweeting his suspicions about the 1962 incident involving the “Romans” gang leader that Biden has repeated several times, including in his autobiography. The controversy was also fueled by a clip posted in a tweet by a columnist from the right-wing Daily Caller.
But CNN found a 2016 obituary for “Corn Pop” and quoted a former mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, where the pool was located, who said Corn Pop, “real as the moon in the sky,” was confrontational. The former mayor — and others — also heard of the confrontation at the time.
In addition, a CNN fact check by reporter Daniel Dale confirmed that the “Romans” gang existed at the time in Wilmington.
Corn Pop was a “bad dude and he ran a bunch of bad boys,” the former vice president said at a 2017 appearance at the pool, which has been named after him. But Biden, who has said he was the only white lifeguard at the predominantly black pool, dared to call out Corn Pop for bouncing on the diving board.
“I said, ’Hey Esther, off the board or I’ll come up and drag you off,” he recounted. Biden was referring to the actress Esther Williams, known at the time for choreographed swimming scenes in Hollywood movies. Anyone with “pomade” in his hair, as Corn Pop did, had to wear swimming caps, Biden explained, which Biden apparently thought heightened Corn Pop’s similarity to the actress.
Corn Pop got off the board, but then waited for Biden at his car with “three guys [all] with straight razors,” he recalled. “No joke.” Biden said he wrapped a heavy chain around his arm and told Corn Pop he had to listen to him at the pool. But he apologized for calling him Esther Williams.
Corn Pop “closed the straight razor, and my heart began to beat again,” said Biden, who insisted the men became friends.
Former state NAACP President Richard “Mouse” Smith has supported Biden’s account. He said Corn Pop was the leader of the Romans and had threatened Biden. Smith said Biden “stood his ground” against Corn Pop after he threatened to “cut him.”
But Harriot’s suspicions about the story set Twitter aflame — from all sides.