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Biden Confronts Campus Protests and Calls for Cease-Fire in Morehouse Speech

By Stacy M. Brown

Before President Joe Biden’s commencement address at Morehouse College, an official told the Black Press that the White House was “very nervous,” primarily due to the ongoing protests Israel’s war in Palestine that have swept campuses around the country. 

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that a group of alumni from Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, and Spelman had objected to the president’s appearance. Despite these objections, the school confirmed its invitation for Biden to address the 2024 graduating class and to bestow upon him an honorary degree, leading the White House and the president to agree to proceed with the address.

This decision was particularly important as the Biden-Harris campaign continued to court Black voters. “It’s one of those things,” the official stated, noting that Stephen Benjamin, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, traveled ahead of Biden to Morehouse to help smooth the path for the president and broker peace.

During the ceremony, Mel Foster, Associate Provost of Student Success, addressed the audience. “We also ask that you respect the dignity and reputation of excellence at Morehouse College,” Foster asserted. “Although we respect everyone’s right to free speech, Morehouse has provided guidelines to ensure we are in full compliance with the law.”

The event featured several references to the global conflict, with some students and at least one faculty member wearing Palestinian scarves. In his opening prayer, Rev. Claybon Lea Jr., a pastor from California, alluded to the plight of Palestinians. Valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher also addressed the issue, calling for a cease-fire in the Middle East. 

“It is important to recognize that both sides have suffered heavy casualties in the wake of October 7,” he said. “It is my sense as a Morehouse man, nay, as a human being, to call for an immediate and a permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.”

Biden’s speech highlighted historic investments in historically Black colleges and universities like Morehouse and underscored the diversity he has implemented at the highest levels of government. He cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Morehouse graduate whose bust sits in the Oval Office, as a key inspiration for his political career.

Biden also sought to contrast himself with the twice-impeached and four-times indicted former president Donald Trump, his likely opponent in November’s election, asserting that Trump and other Republicans would dismantle the progress Black Americans have made in the past three years.

During Biden’s keynote speech, a handful of students and faculty members turned their backs on him, silently protesting his support of Israel’s war in Gaza during a spring that saw protests sweep across the country’s college campuses. At one point, as many as six students were seen seated with their backs to Biden, fists raised in the air, with at least one faculty member joining the demonstration.

Biden acknowledged the protests, stating, “Let me be clear: I support peaceful, nonviolent protest. Your voices should be heard, and I promise I hear them.” He also addressed the Middle East conflict, calling it a humanitarian crisis. “What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That’s why I’ve called for an immediate cease-fire to stop the fighting. Bring the hostages home.”

Biden subtly hinted at his hopes for the political future of his vice president and running mate, saying he was ”proud to put in the first Black woman on the United States Supreme Court,” and added, “I have no doubt one day a Morehouse man will be on that court as well., just after an AKA from Howard,” referencing Vice President Kamala Harris’s membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically Black sorority, during her time at Howard University.

Biden is the third U.S. President to receive an honorary degree from Morehouse, following Barack Obama in 2013 and Jimmy Carter in 1975 before he became president.


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