*President Joe Biden gave the commencement speech at South Carolina State University on Friday, becoming the first sitting president to deliver a commencement address at the HBCU in its 125-year history.
Biden focused much of his speech on the elevated attacks on voting rights, civil rights and democracy itself.
“Without the right to vote, there is no democracy,” Biden told graduates in Orangeburg, S.C. He vowed to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which was passed by the House in August but has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
“But this battle is not over,” Biden continued. “We’re gonna keep up the fight until we get it done. And you’re gonna keep up the fight and we need your help badly.”
Biden began his remarks by thanking Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who received his degree from South Carolina State in December 1961 but didn’t participate in the graduation ceremony the following spring. (The school invited Clyburn to participate in Friday’s ceremony, and he received a diploma on stage.)
Biden said there’s a “through line” from the 2015 mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., to the deadly clash between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, to the deadly Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
“Did you ever think you’d see in modern times people coming out of the fields [in Charlottesville] carrying torches and Nazi banners and screeching the most anti-Semitic and anti-Black rhetoric in history?” Biden said, before criticizing former President Donald Trump’s response.
“The guy before who had this job, when asked what he thought about it, he said, well, there’s some very good people there,” Biden recalled. “Hell, very good people. They’re racists. They’re fascists.”
The president concluded his speech by telling graduates they have a “significant opportunity” to confront hatred.
“We can’t give it any oxygen,” Biden said. “We have to step on it. We have to respond to it. It’s not who we are. It’s a minority, but if the majority doesn’t speak up, it has a profound impact. That’s what we’ve seen the last few years. We cannot and we must not give hate any safe harbor.”