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President Obama and the Mighty Men of Morehouse

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Morehouse graduates in the rain cheer President Obama at commencement address (Pete Souza)

If you have not yet listened to, and watched President Obama delivering the commencement address at Morehouse College, on Sunday, May 19, 2013 it is posted here for you to absorb and view.

This was the 129th commencement ceremony at Morehouse, an historically black college (HBCU). What made it different from all of the ones that preceded it, was that the “Mighty Men” of Morehouse were being addressed by the President of the United States. Black man to young black men.  

Morehouse is an all-male campus in Atlanta GA, part of a network of HBCUs there.

Those of us who grew up in the black community, and aspired to a college education refer often to “The Morehouse Mystique”.

It has proven over the years to be more than mystique.  Morehouse has graduated some of the finest men to lead our community, in the liberal arts, sciences and political activism.

The list of alumni from Morehouse is stellar, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and includes Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, Lerone Bennett, Jr., Howard Thurman, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Edwin Moses, Louis W. Sullivan, and David Satcher.

Morehouse faculty have also contributed greatly to shaping not only Morehouse students, but the world of academic knowledge.  

According to Morehouse’s own “About Us” page, Morehuse was the first historically black college to produce a Rhodes Scholar. The school’s first Rhodes Scholar, Nima Warfield, was named in 1994, the second, Christopher Elders, in 2001. A third, Oluwabusayo “Topé” Folarin, was named in 2004.

Morehouse has been home to seven Fulbright Scholars, Damon M. Lombard (1995), John Thomas (2004), Jason T. Garrett (2006), Morgan C. Williams, Jr. (2006), Lasean Brown (2008), Eric R. Baylor (2008) and Wendell H. Marsh (2009).

Since 1999, Morehouse has produced five Marshall Scholars, five Luce Scholars, four Watson Fellows and 2010 White House Fellow, Erich Caulfield. Previous Watson Fellows include, Craig Marberry ’81, Kenneth Flowers ’83 and Lynn P. Harrison III ’79.

President Barack Obama holds an honorary doctorate from Morehouse.

I often hear people speak of “the black middle-class”. There would be no black middle class today were it not for HBCUs. Granted, post-segregation, black Americans can now attend what were mostly or all-white institutions of higher learning, a select few did so in pre-Civil War America, but the bulk of our doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists, writers, theologians, and leadership graduated from campuses like Morehouse, north and south.

My parents met at an HBCU. My aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles all attended and graduated from HBCUs.  Some were the children of enslaved men and women. I attended an HBCU too.

In case you are wondering-yes, HBCUs accept white, latino, asian and Native American students. Always have. Many were a haven for Jewish students and scholars when the Ivy League schools had a Jewish quota (see Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow). Morehouse had a white valedictorian in 2009.

Morehouse differs from the rest of the HBCUs in one respect. It is all male.  Its sister campus is Bennett College, in Greensboro, NC and it is often linked with Spelman College in Atlanta.

Given the history of what has been done to black men in America, Morehouse continues to meet the challenge of graduating black men who will give back to their communities.


With the right resources, politicking or posturing, anyone can be a leader. Right?

Wrong. At Morehouse, we are redefining the meaning of leadership. It’s not about attaining the highest title or position, but about attaining skills such as compassion, civility, integrity and even listening. Morehouse is poised to become the epicenter of ethical leadership as we continue to develop leaders who are spiritually disciplined, intellectually astute and morally wise.

And leadership first begins at home. Nearly three-fourths of our students volunteer within the community. This volunteerism connects them to their communities and helps them see that, as individuals and as a squadron of educated black men, they can make a difference.

Many Morehouse students also travel or study abroad, awakening them to the complexities of a global community. In today’s age, ethical leaders must have an appreciation of different perspectives and customs, and must also be prepared to negotiate the discordant views that are converging from the four corners of the globe.

Morehouse is committed to training the leaders who will change their communities, the nation and the world.

This statement from Morehouse brings me to the President’s inspiring and challenging address to the graduating class.

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There has been quite a bit of media buzz about his remarks, from the right-wingnuts, and also from some corners of the white left, and a few black critics/pundits.  

Read the transcript.

Listen to his remarks and the response.

Look at the faces of those in attendance.

I was struck by this photo.

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One young man commented to youtube hate speech.

I am a Morehouse man, and so is my brother and one of my cousins. On today I am even more proud to be such. All of my Morehouse brothers on this timeline don’t worry about the hatred. This is a victory today

I smiled in agreement when I read this blunt comment from rikyrah over at 3ChicsPolitico, responding to a critique from Tim Wise, who-Just.Did.Not.Get.It.

The Morehouse speech was for black people. The setting, the cadence, the ideas were for black people. PBO said the same things that GENERATIONS of black leaders have from Frederick Douglas, Fannie Lou Hamer, etc. The memory of that knowledge is in our our DNA passed from generation to generation.

The mother fucking special thing is…it was said today by the mother fucking President of the United States of America.

For those who don’t understand, it is important to recognize that we face a dual battle in our communities across the U.S.-we have to fight external systemic racism, day in and day out. We also have to fight a battle in our own neighborhoods and homes to reverse the affects of that racism. We are mired in what Fanon called “colonized mentality”. We have been exhorted by leaders from DuBois, Garvey, through Malcolm X and Dr. King to deal with developing self-reliance and personal responsibility-in spite of the walls and barriers of racism.  

I was an activist during the rise of the Black Pride and Black Power movement led by students from HBCUs. I worked with my brothers to get them out of gangs, out of prisons, off drugs and to serve the people in Black Panther Party Rainbow Coalition survival programs.  

I am pleased to see that our black POTUS echoed the words of those who came before him to these young black brothers who will help lead us into the future.

As their auntie, grandma, godmother, sister or daughter I salute them, and the President.

Cross-posted from Black Kos


  1. It was an extremely powerful speech even without the historical context. With that context, it is an incredibly important speech as well.

    I was angry to see the left-of-the-left claiming that this president had no right to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, that he would be considered a disappointment by Dr. King.

    He is the culmination of everything that Dr. King worked for: a young black man succeeding spectacularly.

    Thank you for the historical perspective on HBCUs … and for teaching me a new acronym. 🙂

  2. Avilyn

    it was indeed a powerful and moving speech, and I am grateful to you for sharing it along with the context you provided.

  3. Hedwig

    “some corners of the white left” some time ago.

    (Reinstating ArthurPoet just made it official and irretrievable…)

    Thanks for the story and congrats to the new Grads!

  4. Diana in NoVa

    had a column in yesterday’s issue of the paper about the speech.  He didn’t care for it at all. He also quoted Ta-Nhisi Coates.

  5. sricki

    And thanks also for the history/information on HBCUs! It’s always really interesting to get a glimpse into the histories behind some of American’s greatest institutions of higher education.

    So many colleges and universities have fascinating stories to tell, and I wish I had taken the time to learn more when I was choosing a school for myself.  

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