Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden claimed during a community meeting in Wisconsin on Thursday that a black man invented the light bulb, not “a white guy named Edison.”
Biden made the remarks in the context of calling for a reckoning on racism and urging America to confront its “original sin—slavery—and all the vestiges of it.” He then suggested that historical accounts have been falsified out of racist motives.
“People fear that which is different. We’ve got to, for example, why in God’s name don’t we teach history in history classes? A black man invented the light bulb, not a white guy named Edison,” Biden said. “There’s so much—did anybody know before what recently happened that Black Wall Street in Oklahoma was burned to the ground? Anybody know these things? Because we don’t teach them. We’ve got to give people facts. Teach them what’s out there.”
Historical records show that while Thomas Edison is universally credited with inventing the light bulb, a black inventor by the name of Lewis Latimer improved on Edison’s invention and helped make it available more widely. Latimer, who was a member of Edison’s elite research team and himself held multiple patents, created a light bulb that had a more durable carbon filament. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work on electric filament manufacturing techniques.
Biden visited Kenosha in the wake of unrest that was sparked by the shooting of Jacob Blake in a confrontation with police, during which he was shot multiple times in the back. Blake, who resisted arrest and could not be subdued even after being tased, had a warrant out for his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault.
Protests following the shooting, which left Blake paralyzed from the waist down, devolved into violent riots, which peaked in a tragic incident in which a 17-year-old armed with a semi-automatic rifle shot two people dead and wounded another while being chased and possibly attacked.
Saying that “violence of any form is wrong,” Biden blamed President Donald Trump for inflaming divisions in the country and called for his supporters to step up their efforts to “cut another slice off institutional racism.”
“I don’t think we have any alternative but to fight. I don’t think we have any alternative but to fight back. I don’t think we have any alternative but just to go tell the truth,” Biden said.
In earlier remarks in Pittsburgh, Biden also accused the president of stoking division, before saying that the violence wouldn’t stop if Trump gets reelected.
Trump visited Kenosha several days before Biden, to survey the damage on the city inflicted by rioters and to express support for efforts to rebuild. Attorney General William Barr was among the administration officials to accompany Trump on the trip.
During a community safety roundtable, Barr denounced the violence, saying it was another “hijacking” of protests by a “hardcore group of radicals.”
“These are the same people, many of them who came from out of town. Out of 175 arrests, 100 were from out of town,” Barr said. “These are the same people using the same tactics that have been used in various cities: Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, now Kenosha, Portland.
“And they use these black-bloc tactics, throwing projectiles at police and literally trying to inflict injuries on police, arson, and rioting,” Barr added.
Prior to Trump’s visit, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, urged the president not to visit Kenosha, claiming an in-person appearance would lead to further divisiveness.