Biden risks Gaza protests at Martin Luther King Jr.’s college

ATLANTA — U.S. President Joe Biden speaks Sunday at the former university of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr, in a bid to woo Black voters that risks being overshadowed by protests against Israel’s war in Gaza.

Biden’s graduation speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, will be his most direct engagement with students since demonstrations over the conflict roiled campuses across the United States.

Students at Morehouse, a historically Black college, have called on the school’s administration to cancel the speech over Biden’s support for Israel, which has caused strong opposition in a U.S. presidential election year.

“I think it will be a moving commencement address. I think it will meet the moment,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a briefing Friday.

Asked about reports that the college principal would shut down the ceremony if there was major disruption, Jean-Pierre said: “He will respect the peaceful protesters. It is up to Morehouse on how to manage that and move forward.”

A senior White House official recently met students and faculty members at Morehouse to discuss objections to Biden delivering the address, NBC News reported.

While Biden’s choice of Martin Luther King Jr’s alma mater emphasizes the heroism of the civil rights hero, protesters have pointed out that King was also an anti-war activist who opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

Biden initially stayed silent on the Gaza protests but later said that “order must prevail” after police broke up several university protest encampments around the U.S.

Biden poll worries

Biden’s problems with voters over Gaza mirrors wider issues he has with Black and younger voters, two groups that helped him beat Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

He will need to keep those strands in his coalition to have a hope of preventing Trump from making a sensational comeback to the White House despite a chaotic first term and multiple criminal indictments.

The Morehouse College visit caps days of events in which Biden is reaching out to Black voters, all staged around the 70th anniversary of a 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended racial school segregation.

A New York Times/Siena poll last week showed that in addition to trailing Trump in several key battleground states, Biden is also losing ground with African Americans.

Trump is winning more than 20% of Black voters in the poll — which would be the highest level of Black support for a Republican presidential candidate since the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964, The New York Times said.

Several other polls have also shown Biden’s support lagging among Black voters.

Biden accused Trump and his “extreme” supporters of “going after diversity, equity and inclusion all across America” in a speech Friday at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington on Friday.

On Thursday in the Oval Office, Biden welcomed key figures and relatives of plaintiffs in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that proved a milestone for the U.S. civil rights movement.

Later Sunday, Biden will then travel to Detroit where he will address the NAACP, the nation’s top civil rights group.

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