At time of campus concerns, Morehouse hails Biden’s graduation visit

The college’s president said Biden’s visit ‘transcends Morehouse’
Morehouse College tour guide brings prospective students to the Benjamin E. Mays Memorial in front of Graves Hall  on the Morehouse College campus, Monday, March 18, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Morehouse College tour guide brings prospective students to the Benjamin E. Mays Memorial in front of Graves Hall on the Morehouse College campus, Monday, March 18, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

President Joe Biden could receive a mixed reception when he delivers the commencement address at Morehouse College’s graduation ceremony next month.

Social media was buzzing with calls for students and faculty to stage a walk-out in protest of the Democrat’s support for Israel in its ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza after the terror group’s Oct. 7 attack.

Faculty & Staff for Justice in Palestine-Georgia, a group of academic workers with chapters across the country, posted a statement on social media that said in part the president’s visit to Morehouse ”will discourage new applications from a youth generation that overwhelmingly supports a ceasefire. It will prompt significant protest among current students and faculty, subjecting them to discipline and, potentially, dangerous confrontations with the police.”

But David A. Thomas, president of the historically Black college near downtown Atlanta, is hailing the invitation. He said that over the last two years the Biden administration “has more than doubled Black household entrepreneurship, increased Black wealth by 60% since the pandemic, invested more than $7 billion in HBCUs, and — most recently — forgiven over $140 billion in student loans.”

Thomas said the moment, “transcends Morehouse.”

Morehouse College president Dr. David A. Thomas speaks during the Morehouse College commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 21, 2023, on Century Campus in Atlanta. The graduation marked Morehouse College's 139th commencement program. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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“It coincides with a critical juncture in our nation’s history as we navigate an election year marked by contention and divisiveness,” Thomas said. “As an institution and a community, we bear a profound responsibility and obligation to be the beacon of hope and progress in these challenging times. We must take intentional, strategic action that serves the present moment and the collective future of our country and the world.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the plans Monday afternoon, citing sources familiar with the discussions. The White House confirmed the president’s planned appearance at the May 19 commencement in an advisory Tuesday. Biden will also deliver the commencement address at the United States Military Academy on May 25.

Many colleges and universities, including some in Georgia, have had protests on their campuses since the Israel-Hamas war began in October. The biggest demonstrations have taken place at Columbia University in New York City, where more than 100 students were arrested last week during protests at the Ivy League school. As of Tuesday, some students remain in what they’ve called the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” as part of ongoing efforts to get Columbia to fully divest from companies with ties to Israel, among other frequently updated demands.

Kendrick Brown is the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Morehouse College. Contributed photo.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

NBC News reported that Morehouse College provost Kendrick Brown sent faculty members an email outlining a virtual meeting Thursday to offer a chance for professors with “different perspectives” on the commencement speaker to have their say.

Morehouse senior George Lester, who is graduating in May, said he doesn’t believe Biden’s appearance will hurt the college’s reputation.

”There’s very much a mixed opinion because of things he’s said and done in the past that could challenge the ideals of Morehouse College,” said Lester, who is from Austell. “Morehouse College always wants to bridge the gap between different generations’ trains of thought by opening up the campus space with different ideologies.”

Biden’s visit will also serve as a key battleground address in his push for reelection. He is in a pitched battle in the polls with former President Donald Trump and Georgia will be crucial to both campaigns.

In 2020, 95% of Black women and 87% of Black men voted for Biden, but recent polling suggests that his numbers among Black men have been sagging.

“He’s losing in the polls. He’s not winning a lot of our voter support and I think Black families and Black men are where he can improve drastically,” said Aylon Gipson, a graduating Morehouse senior from Montgomery. “As a person who does not like Donald Trump, I want to see Joe Biden win. I kind of understand why his team has decided to come to our campus.”

The Trump campaign released a statement Tuesday saying “Biden’s team is panicking because Joe Biden no longer has a base, and African Americans are supporting President Trump by a historic margin.”

While some polls show Trump is gaining ground among Black voters, traditionally the Democratic Party’s most reliable constituency, most show Biden retains an enormous lead among those voters.

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who recently published an analysis on electoral trends, noted Trump’s “surprisingly robust support” among Black voters for Trump in recent polls. But he said recent exit polling and turnout trends made him skeptical of surveys that suggested Republicans were on the verge of a big breakthrough with Black voters.

Biden has some familiarity with the campus. In 2022, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Atlanta University Center, which includes Morehouse, to promote voting rights legislation. He visited Morehouse in 2015 to raise awareness of a federal effort to address sexual assaults on college campuses.

In 2013, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to speak at a Morehouse graduation.

Plenty were enthusiastic about Biden’s decision.

Among them was U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, an Atlanta Democrat and a Morehouse Man who posted on social media that he was proud Biden was the commencement speaker at his alma mater.

Staff writer Jillian Price contributed to this report.

Georgia’s commencement speakers

Here are some of the high-profile guests invited to give commencement addresses at some of Georgia’s colleges and universities:

Albany State University: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

Clark Atlanta University: Author and activist Daniel Black

Clayton State University: U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.

Georgia Tech: Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian

Morris Brown College: Gospel music star Kirk Franklin

Savannah State University: Slutty Vegan restaurant founder Pinky Cole Hayes

University of Georgia: U.S. Olympic gold medalist swimmer Allison Schmitt

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