Historically Black College Frets Biden Speech As Campus Tensions Rise Over Israel-Hamas War
US President Joe Biden speaks during an event at the United Steelworkers Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 17, 2024.

Faculty members at Morehouse College, one of the country’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), are worried about a planned commencement speech by President Joe Biden planned for next month amid student protests over the Israel-Hamas war.

Kendrick Brown, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the college in Georgia, wrote an email to staff that said he “received an inquiry from concerned faculty about rumors they were hearing about President Biden’s selection as the 2024 Commencement speaker,” according to NBC News.

A virtual meeting was planned for Thursday “to extend an opportunity for faculty with different perspectives on the selection of our Commencement speaker to ask questions and make comments,” Brown wrote, adding that students “also will engage” with college President David Thomas. He concluded, per CNN, “Please know going into this conversation that the College does not plan to rescind its accepted invitation to President Biden.”

The speech is scheduled to happen on Sunday, May 19, on the college’s Century Campus. It would come as Biden is running for another term in the White House and polls show that young, black voters are not as energized about him as they were in 2020 and may be warming up to former President Donald Trump. Biden also has plans to speak at West Point’s graduation on May 25.

Morehouse students who spoke with WXIA-TV, an NBC affiliate in Atlanta, shared mixed reactions to the commencement speech plans. One sophomore reportedly told the news outlet that he does not support the president speaking at the college, citing the Biden administration’s support of Israel amid its months-long fight against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “At the end of the day, this is kind of like something that’s on his political agenda to kind of maybe get more young, black voters,” he added.

As reported by the Associated Press, Morehouse alumni circulated a letter that was critical of the decision to let the president speak, alluding to the U.S. stance in the Israel-Hamas conflict. The letter said Morehouse should “reconsider its attachment” to Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who attended the school and held the stance that “war is a hell that diminishes” humanity, if it does not rescind its invitation to Biden.

Anti-Israel protests have sprung up on college campuses around the country, including Columbia University, leading to arrests and suspensions. Biden told reporters on Monday that he condemns the “anti-Semitic protests.” He added, “I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

Biden has been confronted by protesters at past events in the months since Hamas launched deadly attacks on Israel on October 7 of last year. One rally was repeatedly disrupted by  protesters in January. In March, pro-Palestinian demonstrators interrupted the president’s remarks, leading Biden to say they “have a point.”


So far, the White House has not given any indication that Biden will skip the commencement speech at Morehouse. His deputy press secretary, Andrew Bates, told reporters on Tuesday that the “president looks forward to speaking to graduates on their special day and thanking their parents, friends, and loved ones for all of their support.”

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