President Biden Met with Peaceful Protests During Speech at Morehouse College As He Appeals to Black Voters | WATCH

By
Michael Williams and Donald Judd, CNN

*Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden touted his administration’s efforts to place Black Americans into the highest echelons of political power during a Sunday commencement address at Morehouse College, while also acknowledging the anguish simmering among young people across the US over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The president, speaking to graduates at a preeminent college for Black men, delivered a forceful call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza paired with the release of Israeli hostages – while urging a long-term political solution to the crisis.

“What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heartbreaking: Hamas’ vicious attack on Israel, killing innocent lives and holding people hostage; innocent Palestinians caught in the middle of all this – men, women and children killed or displaced and in desperate need of water, food and medicine,” the president said.

Biden faced a delicate balancing act ahead of his speech at Morehouse, where some students and faculty members opposed the president’s presence on campus because of his stalwart support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas. The White House worked for weeks to quell concerns, and it hoped the address would give Biden an opportunity to better connect with young Black men, a group that has been increasingly moving away from the president, according to recent polls.

Biden and his campaign know the support of Black Americans will be critical for his chances of returning to the White House — especially in battlegrounds such as Georgia, where the president delivered Morehouse’s commencement, and Michigan, where he cast former President Donald Trump as “unhinged” during remarks at an NAACP dinner later Sunday.

Prior to Biden’s commencement address, the school’s valedictorian in his speech invoked the name of one of its most famous alumni, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., to call for an end to the violence in Gaza.

DeAngelo Fletcher said it was his “stance as a Morehouse Man – nay, as a human being – to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

And as Biden began speaking, some graduates took part in a silent protest; one unfurled a Palestinian flag, while a handful of others turned their backs to the president. But Biden delivered his speech without any noticeable interruptions.

Biden acknowledged young Americans’ frustrations about the crisis in the Middle East and said the issue hits close to home.

“It’s one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world, and there’s nothing easy about it – I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family,” Biden said. CNN has previously reported first lady Jill Biden has privately expressed concern over the humanitarian toll in Gaza.

He added: “I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well.”

Democratic presidential candidates have enjoyed the support of Black Americans since the Civil Rights Movement, and Biden’s history with the community runs deep. But polling has shown an erosion in support for the president from Black voters dissatisfied with his handling of the economy and his support for Israel.

Spending much of his speech focused on democracy, Biden said there has been a recent national effort to obfuscate America’s historical wrongs against its Black citizens.

“I never thought I’d be a president at a time when there’s a national effort to ban books,” Biden said. “Not to write history, but to erase history. They don’t see you in the future of America. But they’re wrong. To me, we make history, not erase it. We know Black history is American history.”

Extremist forces, Biden told the group of male graduates, peddle falsehoods about what masculinity is about.

“Their idea of being a man is toxic. I ran into them all the time when I was younger. … But that’s not you, that’s not us. You all know and demonstrate what it really means to be a man,” he said.

Trumpeting his support for the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, Biden said he had “no doubt a Morehouse man will be president one day – just after an AKA from Howard.” The remark seemed to demonstrate Biden’s hopes for the political future of Vice President Kamala Harris, a member of the historically Black Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority who graduated from the Washington, DC, HBCU.

Over the last several months, Biden has largely shied away from addressing large crowds of young people on college campuses, a change that came shortly after his January remarks on abortion rights at Virginia’s George Mason University were interrupted more than a dozen times by protesters outraged at his continued support for Israel in its war in Gaza.

Joe Biden at Morehouse (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds-AFP-Getty Images via CNN Newsource)
Joe Biden at Morehouse (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds-AFP-Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Since then, and as the death toll in Gaza of civilians, aid workers, and journalists has continued to rise, that anger has only spread.

More than 1,360 student demonstrations have taken place on campuses across the country from October 7 to May 3, according to data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. The overwhelming majority of those demonstrations – 97% – have been peaceful, though isolated cases of property destruction and violence have gained widespread attention.

Those instances reached a crescendo in late April and early May, when students at Columbia University overtook some university buildings, an encampment at the University of Texas in Austin was forcefully dispersed by police, and counterprotesters at UCLA launched an hourslong attack on a pro-Palestinian encampment.

Those cases of campus turmoil prompted Biden, in brief remarks from the White House earlier this month, to denounce some of the actions of campus protesters.

“I understand people have strong feelings of deep convictions,” Biden said at the time. “In America, we respect the right and protect the right for them to express that. But it doesn’t mean anything goes.”

While dissent is “essential to democracy,” Biden said in those remarks, it “must never lead to disorder, or to denying the rights of others.”

Biden’s Morehouse commencement was the latest in a series of efforts undertaken by the president in recent days to both acknowledge the nation’s historic racial shortcomings while simultaneously addressing its next generation of Black leaders.

Speaking at the NAACP dinner in Detroit on Sunday evening, Biden sought to send a warning about his opponent, saying the presumptive GOP nominee “poses a bigger threat” in a second term than a first. “It’s clear when he lost, something snapped in him,” the president said of Trump, reiterating remarks he has previously made off-camera at campaign fundraisers.

Noting that the former president has vowed to pardon January 6, 2021, rioters, Biden questioned how Trump would have responded if many of those storming the US Capitol were Black: “Let me ask you: What do you think he would have done on January 6 if Black Americans had stormed the Capitol? No, I’m serious. What do you think? I can only imagine.”

Last week, the president met with the plaintiffs of the historic Brown v. Board of Education case that overturned racial segregation in schools 70 years ago. During that Thursday meeting, some of the plaintiffs’ relatives urged him to make the case’s anniversary a national holiday.

On Friday, Biden delivered remarks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and spoke with members of the Divine Nine, a group of historic Black fraternities and sororities.

Biden’s stop at Morehouse is the second time he visited the college during his presidency. In 2022, both Biden and Harris delivered a speech on voting rights at the college.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information Sunday.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

MORE NEWS ON EURWEB.COM: Spike Lee Tells Why He, His Entire ‘School Daze’ Cast and Crew Were Kicked off Morehouse’s Campus | VIDEO

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