Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Victoria Bekiempis

Biden vows to fight ‘poison of white supremacy’ at Morehouse speech

President Joe Biden speaks to graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement on Sunday, in Atlanta, Georgia.
President Joe Biden speaks to graduating students at the Morehouse College commencement on Sunday, in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Joe Biden told graduating students of Morehouse College that American democracy has failed the Black community, but vowed to continue fighting “the poison of white supremacy”, in a widely watched speech to a historically Black college during an election year.

Despite backlash from some students and alumni in the weeks leading up to the president’s commencement address, including over the Hamas-Israel war and concerns that Biden would use the speech as a campaign event, the president’s address to the all-male school was warmly received. He used his speech to reaffirm his commitment to democracy in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, and to reiterate his call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Biden’s appearance at Morehouse comes as part of his campaign efforts in Georgia, a key swing state in the 2020 election, and as polls suggest his support from young voters and voters of color – who were integral to the coalition that helped him beat Donald Trump in 2020 – appears to be flagging slightly.

Despite criticism over Biden’s visit, the mood at Morehouse seemed upbeat and when a speaker asked attendees to welcome Biden they responded with applause and cheers.

“Black men are being killed in the street. What is democracy? A trail of broken promises still leaving Black communities behind”, Biden said. “What is democracy? – You have to be 10 times better than others to get a fair shot.”

“What does it mean”, Biden continued, “to be a Black Man who loves his country even if it doesn’t love him back in equal measure?”

“My commitment to you [is] to show you democracy, democracy, democracy is still the way,” he said.

Biden also warned about the powerful tide of extremism. “Insurrectionists storming the Capitol with Confederate flags are called patriots by some – not in my house,” Biden said to applause. “We all bleed the same color. In America, we’re all created equal.”

Biden also reaffirmed his commitment to an end to the Gaza conflict. “I support peaceful nonviolent protests,” he said. “Your voices should be heard and I promise you: I hear you.”

Biden said the war in Gaza was “heartbreaking”, discussed the horror of Hamas’s 7 October attack and of the plight of Palestinians. “Innocent Palestinians are caught in the middle of this,” he said. “It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That’s why I’ve called for an immediate ceasefire.”

Despite concerns over disruptions, nobody interrupted Biden’s address, though one lone graduate stood with his back turned to Biden with his right fist raised.

The valedictorian, DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher, also addressed the Gaza conflict in his speech.

“The Israel-Gaza conflict has plagued the people of its region for generations. It is important to recognize that both sides have suffered heavy casualties in the wake of October 7,” Fletcher said. “From the comfort of our homes, we watched an unprecedented number of civilians mourn the loss of men, women and children.

“It is my stance as a Morehouse man, and as a human being, to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

Fletcher was met with applause, including from Biden.

Biden also received an honorary doctorate of laws from Morehouse, which counts Dr Martin Luther King among its many renowned alumni.

Morehouse invited Biden to serve as graduation speaker in September, prior to Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israeli civilians that left some 1,200 dead. In April, it announced he would also be the recipient of the honorary degree. The Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine–Georgia condemned his appearance.

“More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children,” the group said in a statement. “More than 77,000 have been injured. Every hospital and university in Gaza has been destroyed. None of this would have been possible without the support and sponsorship of the Biden Administration. Any college or university that gives its commencement stage to President Biden in this moment is endorsing genocide.”

Steve Benjamin, head of the White House Office of Public Engagement, met with Morehouse students and faculty for several hours ahead of Biden’s appearance, to listen to their concerns that Biden would treat his commencement address as a stump speech.

After the Morehouse speech Biden is expected to travel to Detroit, where he will give an address at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner and highlight how his administration’s policies have helped Black Americans. Earlier this week Biden met with litigants in the watershed Brown v Board of education case, and sat down with the leadership of a group of historically Black fraternities and sororities called the Divine Nine.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.