The late civil rights icon John Lewis spoke with Joe Biden in the days before his death and advised him to stay focused on the “the work left undone to heal this nation,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in a Tuesday speech on racial inequality in the economy.
Biden took note of how Lewis, on his deathbed, kept their conversation centered on the former vice president’s White House bid and the state of the nation.
“He asked that we stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation, to remain undaunted by the public health crisis and the economic crisis that has taken the blinders off in this crisis and shown the systemic racism that plagues this nation,” Biden said.
The 80-year-old Lewis, a fierce advocate for voting rights and longtime congressman from Georgia, died on July 17 after battling cancer.
Biden’s campaign has been unveiling a series of economic recovery plans, under the slogan “Build Back Better,” in recent weeks. Previous plans have emphasized ways to promote and help create manufacturing jobs, green infrastructure and the caregiving profession. The fourth and last installment, which Biden detailed Tuesday, addressed systemic racism in the economy.
Speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden noted the disproportionate number of Black and brown Americans who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Black unemployment, at 15%, sits higher than for other demographics and more than 40% of black-owned businesses reportedly have had to shut down because of the pandemic, Biden said.
His plan to address these disparities includes programs to increase funding for new equity investment and venture capital for black and brown entrepreneurs, increase lending through the Small Business Administration for black-owned businesses and advance a tax credit of up to $15,000 for new homeowners.
Biden’s speech comes as demonstrations protesting racism and police brutality continue in many cities across the nation. He has either opposed or declined to embrace some of the prominent demands pushed by the Black Lives Matter movement, especially “defund the police.”
Last week, 50 progressive groups signed a letter urging Biden to adopt bolder measures to address police brutality and racial justice, unhappy with the limited scope of his plan for Black Americans and his police reform proposal.
Biden’s campaign has backed investing $300 million in community policing.
Lewis, in the months before his death, visited protesters demonstrating for the Black Lives Movement in Washington.
The lawmaker’s body lay in state at the U.S. Capitol on Monday and Tuesday. Biden and his wife, Jill, were among those to pay their respects on Monday. President Donald Trump, who frequently sparred with Lewis over policies and the status of the country’s race relations, said Monday he would not do so.