By Margaret Kimberley, BAR exec. editor & senior columnist

15 May 202Black Agenda Report

 

The Morehouse College class of 2024 has a historic opportunity to tell Joe Biden and the world that millions of Black people are outraged by the Israeli/U.S. genocide in Gaza. The only thing they risk is denunciation from the milquetoast petit bourgeoisie.

What is the point of having Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and taking pride in graduates like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or bragging about the greatness of “Morehouse men” if a genocidaire president can be welcomed and honored when he should be scorned? The Morehouse College class of 2024 has the opportunity to answer this question at its commencement ceremony on May 19, 2024, when Joe Biden is scheduled to receive an honorary degree from that institution.

Morehouse president David A. Thomas says that he extended the invitation to Biden in September 2023, making the point that as of that date, Israel and the United States had yet to begin their latest killing spree against the people of Gaza. Of course colleges want prominent people such as presidents to be commencement speakers. It gives their school cache and puts them on the map for good publicity and of course money from the much sought after rich donor class.

But presidents and other prominent malefactors represent a conundrum for the HBCUs. If Morehouse truly existed to uplift the race, it wouldn’t have invited Barack Obama to be a commencement speaker in 2013 either. Obama came into office and immediately bailed out the financial institutions who bankrolled his campaign. When Black people lost their homes in the market meltdown which was caused by his benefactors, he did nothing to help the people who gave him so much love. He had destroyed the Libyan state in a brutal regime change war and was attempting to do the same in Syria. In short, he was a typical U.S. president but one who got a pass from Black people. Of course he is still a big draw and is invited to speak at commencements and other supposedly wholesome events from which he actually should be barred.

Despite the fact that Morehouse did not have the large-scale encampments seen at other schools, its student body was not in favor of Biden’s appearance and they told their president as much in a campus town hall . Students expressed concern that Morehouse would be considered complicit in genocide and that they would be used in campaign ads for a president who sends billions of dollars to wage war in Ukraine while allowing the needs of Black people to languish.

But Morehouse insisted that the sordid show go on and Biden will speak even if students don’t want to hear him. Other colleges have been better at gauging opinion and are more willing to listen to those who protest against involvement with apartheid Israel. New Orleans HBCU Xavier University disinvited UN Ambassador and Louisiana native Linda Thomas-Greenfield when students complained that she would be the commencement speaker. The student association president summed it up in a letter to the administration.

“It has come to our attention that the university has chosen to invite a U.N. ambassador who has voted against a ceasefire in Gaza to address our graduating class. This decision sparked significant dismay and disappointment among us, as it contradicts the values and principles that our institution upholds. … As members of a compassionate and empathetic community, we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of our fellow human beings.” Fortunately the value of a good education isn’t lost on everyone and some educators are actually serious about doing their jobs.

Morehouse president Thomas has doubled down on his decision to invite Biden by threatening to end the commencement ceremony should anyone protest. “Faced with the choice of having police take people out of the Morehouse commencement in zip ties, we would essentially cancel or discontinue the commencement services on the spot.” Surely that is one way to ensure obedience. Who wants to be made responsible for ending the moment of pride and joy for students and families? But Thomas also spelled out what would be permitted. “If during the ceremony, people engage in silent, nondisruptive protests, if, you know, my students when they cross the stage – they want to wear insignia or scars [sic] that identify their relationship to this issue, that will be allowed.”

If students fear ending the ceremony they should follow their president’s directive. Every Morehouse man should get his hands on a keffiyeh and proudly wear it on graduation day. If someone can’t find a keffiyeh he can write the words “Free Palestine” in large and bold letters on his mortarboard cap. Most importantly, the graduating class must sit in stony silence while Biden speaks. There should be no applause, no laughter, no cheering, no smiling, no shaking hands with the man who is not only responsible for genocide in Gaza but who was the point person against school busing to achieve integration. “Unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point.” Biden is the man who bragged about writing the 1992 Crime Bill that put so many Black people in prison. “We do everything but hang people for jaywalking in this bill.” He should not get off easily at Morehouse or anywhere else. The fact that he is president at all, and like every other democrat only with the overwhelming support of Black people, is a sad commentary on our politics.

May 19 is also a significant date for a much more important reason. Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, was born on May 19, 1925. Malcolm X was a defender of Black liberation struggles in the U.S. and all over the world. He was an internationalist and an anti-capitalist. His birthday should be widely celebrated instead of the Joe Biden get out of jail free Juneteenth travesty. Malcolm X fiercely denounced the white power structure and spoke boldly against the people who run Morehouse and other institutions by begging for favors and silencing protest. On February 4, 1965, just days before his assassination, he told students in Selma, Alabama , “I pray that you will grow intellectually, so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into, in that world picture. And I pray that all the fear that has ever been in your heart will be taken out, and when you look at that man, if you know he’s nothing but a coward, you won’t fear him.”

Hopefully there will be Morehouse graduates wearing pictures of Malcolm X on their gowns and they will remember not to fear people like their accommodationist college president. They should also know that they can walk out of the ceremony, as students have done at other graduations, even if they risk shutting it down. After all, Gaza has no universities. They have all been destroyed by the Israeli Defense Force. If they are worried about what families or friends will think, they should instead think of the student graduating from Al-Azhar University who defended his thesis in a tent because his school buildings no longer exist.

The term Morehouse man ought to be more than a fun popular culture reference. Morehouse men must protest on May 19 or else come up with a new moniker.

 

-Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents. You can support her work on Patreon and also find it on the TwitterBluesky, and Telegram platforms. She can be reached via email at margaret.kimberley@blackagendareport.com.

 

PHOTO: Protest at Morehouse College. Photo courtesy of rollingout.com