Biden’s graduation speech at Morehouse College, a prestigious centre for Black politics and culture, is surrounded by controversy

May 17, 2024 | Politics | 0 comments

When President Joe Biden delivers the commencement address at Morehouse College, it marks his most direct interaction with college students since the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict, and it is at a hub of Black politics and culture.

Morehouse, situated in Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city and a pivotal swing state that Biden flipped from former President Donald Trump four years ago, sets the stage for Biden’s speech. Scheduled for Sunday, this address is aimed at fostering connections with a crucial demographic—young Black men—and rejuvenating the diverse coalition that secured his White House victory.

However, the announcement of Biden’s speech last month sparked peaceful protests and demands from some quarters, including students at Morehouse and other historically Black campuses in Atlanta, to rescind the invitation due to concerns over Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict. This mirrors broader tensions Biden faces within communities of color and among young voters nationwide.

Morehouse President David Thomas acknowledged the charged atmosphere surrounding the speech and emphasized its significance. He underscored Morehouse’s role as a venue to address and navigate societal tensions, stressing the importance of confronting divisive issues.

The timing of Biden’s speech is critical as he faces a reelection battle against Trump. Lagging support among Black voters and younger demographics, vital to his 2020 electoral success, poses a challenge for Biden.

The debate over Biden’s speech at Morehouse epitomizes the inherent tension within historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which strive for social justice and Black advancement while maintaining order.

Protests and petitions preceded Biden’s appearance, reflecting divergent views among students regarding Biden’s policies on Israel and Palestine. Despite opposition, the decision to invite Biden remained unchanged.

Thomas engaged with students and alumni, navigating various concerns while upholding the decision to host Biden. The episode underscores the complexities HBCUs face in balancing tradition and advocacy.

Biden’s speech aligns with his broader efforts to engage with Black communities. It forms part of a series of engagements focusing on issues crucial to these communities, including education and civil rights.

While protests may occur, Morehouse’s president aims to ensure a dignified ceremony without disruptions, underscoring the institution’s commitment to navigating tensions constructively.

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