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Biden exaggerates his civil rights at Black History Month celebration

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

Vice President Biden is amazed when whites try to act like they know what blacks have been through, but given a chance this week to brag on his part to end Jim Crow laws, he offered up that he helped to desegregate movie theaters as a kid.

It came Wednesday night as he was hosting his fourth Black History Month celebration at the vice president's Naval Observatory residence, surrounded by veteran and new civil rights leaders like Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, on of the original 13 Freedom Riders attacked by the Ku Klux Klan.

Biden waxed on about those in the movement who helped him learn about discrimination as a boy and as a senator from Delaware. He recalled the hatred he felt watching violent clashes between whites and blacks. And he admitted to "feeling guilty" that he wasn't marching with activists.

But the vice president said that he did a little part to end Jim Crow laws. As his crowd listened closely Wednesday, according to a White House tape of the event, Biden said that as a kid he was "trying just a little tiny bit at home to desegregate movie theaters and those things we were doing."

As with some other Biden moments, it was a stretch. It wasn't "movie theaters," it was just one movie house. In 1983, after he suggested he was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, at 17 participating in "sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie houses," an aide told the New York Times that Biden only tried to desegregate "one restaurant and one movie theater."

Even as he made his latest comments, Biden seemed to realize he might be embellishing. "No big deal," he said. "I want to make it clear to the press, I was no great shakes in the civil rights movement."

During the event, he put the hammer down on his white liberal friends. "It always amazes me how my white liberal friends think they understand the black community" without having lived in a black community, he said.

He explained that the civil rights work African-American activists did over time helped to bring white Americans along. "The work you did also liberated white folks."

And on a day when the Supreme Court was reviewing the Civil Rights Era voting Rights Act of 1965, the veep suggested that the battles continue today. "I never thought we'd ever have to relive so many things," he said, referring to states he claimed are trying to limit access to the polls.

"So, look folks, we got a heck of a lot of work to do" with respect to efforts to "curtail the right to vote," he said, and "making sure the franchise is expanded and not restricted."

He concluded: "I'm tired of doing these fights. Let's get it done."