Biden raises ‘Gaza humanitarian crisis’ at Morehouse amid rising tensions on campuses

President Joe Biden renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and, during a Sunday speech before hundreds of Morehouse College graduates representing the demographic Biden needs to win the Nov. 5 election, highlighted federal spending at historically black colleges.

Biden’s role as commencement speaker at a historic black college in Atlanta has been met with concern from those who disagree with his handling of Israel’s military response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, as well as from those who they feared it would be a distraction from graduates’ achievements.

Biden’s approximately 25-minute speech continued uninterrupted and ended with Biden receiving an honorary degree from Morehouse to applause from the audience.

“I’m not going home,” Biden joked with a broad smile after receiving the honor.

But on the campus that is the alma mater of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and which has a long history of social activism, there have been some evident signs of discontent. Off campus, well over 100 people, many of them students, gathered to protest Biden’s appearance, largely over his continued support for Israel.

Some graduates, including the university’s valedictorian who wore a tiny Palestinian flag pin on his stole, displayed some form of the Palestinian flag. As Biden spoke, the lecturer stood up and turned around with his fist in the air.

As Biden sat nearby, valedictorian Deangelo Jeremiah Fletcher called for the release of all hostages and an immediate and indefinite ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

“It is right that the Class of 2024 use every platform available to stand in solidarity with peace and justice,” Fletcher said in his speech.

Biden clapped and then greeted Fletcher with a handshake as the graduate left the stage, and later addressed the issue in his speech, saying there was a “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. He renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire and said he was actively working to find a solution.

“This is one of the most difficult and complicated problems in the world. There is nothing easy about this,” Biden told the graduates. “I know this angers and frustrates many of you, including my family. But most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine too.

“Leadership is about tackling the hardest problems. It’s about challenging your anger, frustration and heartbreak to find a solution. It’s about doing what you think is right, even when it’s arduous and lonely,” he said.

The Morehouse speech came as Biden continues to trail his Republican rival, former President Donald Trump, in the polls and amid concerns about waning enthusiasm for Biden among youthful black voters, who typically make up an vital part of the Democratic base.

Black voters in Georgia helped turn the tide in Biden’s favor when he defeated Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020. Pew Research Center analysis 2020 election results showed that Black Georgians accounted for nearly half of the state’s 1.9 million augment in eligible voters since the turn of the century.

IN New York Times poll released earlier this month, 26% of voters aged 18 to 29 said they would vote for Biden if the election were held today, lower than any other age group. Another 30% said they would vote for Trump, also lower than any other age group.

Leadership is about tackling the hardest problems

Biden pledged continued support for HBCUs on Sunday, while boasting that federal funding for HBCUs has topped a record $16 billion during his administration. He also warned of the threats extremists pose to democracy.

“Extremists are closing doors of opportunity, thwarting affirmative action, attacking the values ​​of diversity, equality and inclusion,” he said.

“I never thought I would be president at a time when there are efforts to ban books across the country. Not to write history, but to erase it. They don’t see you in America’s future, but they’re wrong. For me, we make history, not erase it. We know that Black history is American history.”

Rasheed Canton, who graduated from Morehouse on Sunday, said Biden’s inaugural speech and calls for protest were challenging to ignore after the spring semester ended. Still, Canton said he wasn’t surprised that Biden’s speech and the rest of the commencement ceremony went smoothly despite rising tensions.

He said Trump and Biden will try to encourage youthful Black voters to the polls in November, whether through financial pledges or other pledges of support.

“Biden will have to catch up by November, especially if the war remains the focus,” the DeKalb County resident said after Sunday’s ceremony. “I will continue to support the Democratic presidential candidate who I believe best represents the values ​​of myself, my Morehouse brothers and the entire Black community.”

Following the graduation ceremony, Morehouse College released a statement saying the administration upholds the school’s tradition of supporting people’s rights to peacefully protest on behalf of social justice issues. The statement also praised federal funding for HBCUs and the president’s calls for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

“The world often quotes our most famous and beloved alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the world must know that without Morehouse there would be no Dr. King,” the statement read. “It is good that there is a moment of organized, peaceful activism on our campus as the world watches to continue the critical conversation. We are proud of the resilient class of 2024 uniting in silent protest, demonstrating its purposefulness in strategy, communication and coordination as a 412-member unit.”

Protesters march in front of the Morehouse campus

While Morehouse’s commencement ceremony was underway, over 100 demonstrators gathered in a nearby park before marching to Morehouse. Police officers on bicycles pedaled past the marchers and blocked their entrance to campus, but the protest was peaceful.

Standing outside one of the school’s entrances, protesters beat drums and chanted slogans such as “Free Palestine” and “Come November, we will remember.”

“I don’t like that he’s here,” Morehouse junior Daxton Pettus said.

A Morehouse student films protesters marching past campus. (Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)

Many youthful marchers said Biden’s appearance smacked of election-year solicitation for black votes, which they said was made all the more painful by Morehouse’s ties to the Civil Rights Movement.

Andrea Richmond is involved with the Atlanta University Center Consortium, a group of historically black colleges in Atlanta that includes Morehouse, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. Richmond graduated from Spelman in 2019 and has a brother who studied at Morehouse and a sister who studied at Clark Atlanta. Her mother worked at Morehouse for 25 years.

“I grew up in AUC,” she said. “I saw a lot of action at AUC. I have heard about the aura of the AUC and I want the AUC to actually stand for what it talks about, which is not only the promotion of Black people, but the promotion of all marginalized people.”

Registrar from Georgia is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. If you have any questions, please contact editor John McCosh: [email protected]. Follow the Georgia Recorder on Facebook AND Twitter.

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