President Biden sought to rally disaffected Black supporters on Monday with a fiery condemnation of former President Donald J. Trump, linking his predecessor’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election to the nation’s history of white supremacy in what he called “the old ghost in new garments.”
Speaking from the pulpit of the South’s oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mr. Biden drew a direct line from slavery, the Civil War and Jim Crow to the divisions of today. Just as it was a “self-serving lie” to call the Confederate rebellion a “noble cause,” the president called Mr. Trump’s insistence that he won the election an effort to rewrite history.
“Once again, there are some in this country trying to turn a loss into a lie — a lie which, if allowed to live, will once again bring terrible damage to this country,” Mr. Biden told about 700 parishioners and other guests at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. “This time, the lie is about the 2020 election.”
The president also took a shot at Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and onetime ambassador to the United Nations who is seeking to deny Mr. Trump the Republican nomination this year. Without naming her, Mr. Biden mocked Ms. Haley for refusing at a recent campaign event to name slavery when asked what started the Civil War.
“Let me be clear, for those who don’t seem to know: Slavery was the cause of the Civil War,” Mr. Biden said to applause from the audience.
The visit to South Carolina, the state that helped make Mr. Biden the Democratic nominee nearly four years ago, was the second part of the president’s two-stage opening campaign swing of the election year. On Friday, he gave a speech near Valley Forge, Pa., denouncing Mr. Trump on the eve of the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In coming to the storied Black church where a white supremacist killed the pastor and eight parishioners in 2015, Mr. Biden hoped to remind a key voting bloc of the significance of the election in November.
After the massacre, Mr. Biden, then the vice president, joined President Barack Obama in Charleston at the funeral of the pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, where Mr. Obama delivered a eulogy and unexpectedly sang “Amazing Grace.” Mr. Biden, then mourning his son Beau, who had died of cancer weeks earlier, returned a couple of days later to pray with the congregation at the church, commonly called Mother Emanuel.
Mr. Biden has often attributed his decision to run for president in 2020 to Mr. Trump’s racial provocations, particularly when Mr. Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. But Mr. Biden has lost support among Black supporters who could be critical to his hopes for beating Mr. Trump in a rematch this year.
Twenty-two percent of Black voters in six battleground states told pollsters from The New York Times and Siena College last fall that they would vote for Mr. Trump, while the president was drawing 71 percent. Such support indicates a surge for Mr. Trump, who won 6 percent of Black voters nationally in 2016 and 8 percent in 2020.
Black Democrats in South Carolina helped save Mr. Biden’s flagging campaign for the party’s nomination in 2020 after weak showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. The president has since orchestrated South Carolina’s ascendance as the first primary state for 2024. To shore up support, Democrats have flooded the state in recent weeks with money, staff and surrogates, and a campaign aide said Mr. Biden would return again before the primary on Feb. 3.
Mr. Trump’s campaign fired back at the president after his speech. Jason Miller, a spokesman for the former president, wrote on social media that Mr. Biden “has done more damage to the African American community than any president in modern history,” without offering any examples. “With his poll numbers cratering, Biden is now trying to gaslight Black Americans with misleading attacks, but everybody knows we were better off with President Trump,” Mr. Miller wrote.
Ms. Haley also rejected Mr. Biden’s comments during an appearance on Fox News later in the evening. “I don’t need someone who palled around with segregationists in the ’70s and has said racist comments all the way through his career lecturing me or anyone in South Carolina about what it means to have racism, slavery or anything related to the Civil War,” she said.
The president was accompanied on Monday by Representative James E. Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat whose critical endorsement in 2020 helped propel Mr. Biden to the nomination. Mr. Clyburn has met with Mr. Biden recently to share his worries about the campaign and said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that he was “very concerned” about Black turnout in November. Mr. Biden, he added, has not “been able to break through that MAGA wall” to highlight his record with Black voters.
Mr. Obama has also expressed concern directly to Mr. Biden about the state of the campaign, according to The Washington Post.
In introducing the president on Monday, Mr. Clyburn once again put his weight behind Mr. Biden by promoting his efforts to reduce student loan debt, expand veterans care, build infrastructure and reduce the cost of insulin and other medicines. He called attention to the president’s record of appointing more Black women to the federal bench than all of his predecessors combined, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
“As I told you four years ago, we know Joe,” Mr. Clyburn told parishioners on Monday, with the president sitting behind him. “But more importantly, Joe knows us.”
The two met privately with some relatives of those killed in the 2015 attack and later visited Hannibal’s Kitchen, a popular soul food restaurant, to shake hands with members of the community.
Quentin Fulks, the principal deputy campaign manager, said the president would be able to generate renewed support among Black supporters by explaining his record.
“No president has done more for the Black community than what Joe Biden has done,” Mr. Fulks said. He added, “The enthusiastic problem is just going to be one where we continue to communicate to these voters.”
In his speech, Mr. Biden recalled the dark days nearly nine years ago when gunfire erupted just feet away from where he was standing on Monday, a slaughter born, he said, of poison.
“What is that poison?” he asked. “White supremacy. Throughout our history, it’s ripped this nation apart. This has no place in America — not today, tomorrow or ever.”
He added that hope sprang from tragedy, noting that the shooting in 2015 led South Carolina to lower the Confederate battle flag that had flown on the grounds of the State House, although he did not mention that it was Ms. Haley as governor who led the drive for the law to authorize it.
Mr. Biden castigated Mr. Trump for, in his view, brushing off gun violence, noting that the former president responded to a school shooting in Iowa that killed an 11-year-old last week by saying that “we have to get over it.” Mr. Biden said, “My response is we have to stop it.” (Mr. Trump also called the shooting “a very terrible thing” and told the relatives, “We are with you all the way.”)
A handful of protesters briefly interrupted the president’s appearance on Monday by shouting “cease-fire now,” calling for an end to Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in retaliation for the terrorist attack on Oct. 7. As the protesters were led out of the church, the audience shouted them down with chants of “four more years.” Mr. Biden made a point of saying, “I understand their passion,” adding that he had been working to reduce civilian casualties.
After his stop in Charleston, Mr. Biden flew to Dallas for a wake for former Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a pioneering Black member of Congress for three decades, who died at 89 last week.
He spent a little under an hour at Concord Church and briefly entered the 3,000-seat sanctuary in the middle of a series of tributes to offer handshakes and hugs and cross himself in front of the coffin, an appearance live-streamed on two jumbo screens. But he made no public remarks before heading back to Washington.