Tension is mounting at Morehouse College.
As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver a commencement address at Morehouse, a prominent Philadelphia minister who wrote a scathing critique of Obama now says he’s been disinvited to speak at Morehouse one day before Obama is scheduled to speak on May 18.
Rev. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, is embroiled in a growing controversy following a blistering editorial he wrote in The Philadelphia Tribune entitled: “A President for Everyone. Except Black People.”
“Given the president’s poor record in catapulting an economic and empowerment agenda for the African American community, we must begin asking the questions: Why are we so loyal to a president who is not loyal to us?” Johnson wrote last month.
“To my disappointment, the president has not only failed the Black community, but also has failed to surround himself with qualified African Americans who could develop policies to help the most disenfranchised,” Johnson wrote.
“Indeed,” Johnson added, “if we objectively look at Obama’s presidency, African Americans are in a worse position than they were before he became president.”
Johnson had been invited to deliver a baccalaureate address at Morehouse one day before Obama’s address, but after reading Johnson’s editorial, Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. — who previously headed the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities — told Johnson that he had decided to change Johnson’s address into a “multi-speaker” event to include three speakers.
“As president, I believe this is in the best interest of the college,” Wilson wrote on the Morehouse website. “In this instance, I decided to ask this invited speaker to share the Baccalaureate stage with two other speakers so as to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.”
Some black professionals say Wilson is scolding Johnson for criticizing Obama, because Obama is Wilson’s former boss. But one black minister says Johnson is entitled to free speech and should not be punished for stating his political views.
“In an academic institution. … it’s the wrong message to send graduating seniors who are going out into a diverse world,” the Rev. Delman Coates, a Maryland pastor, told USA Today. “If Martin Luther King Jr. could challenge Lyndon Baines Johnson on the Vietnam War after Johnson won the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, then why should a distinguished alumnus of Morehouse College not raise pointed questions about the Obama administration?”
Johnson’s controversial editorial criticizing Obama comes as some black Washington, D.C. residents have whispered their frustrations about a White House they consider too white. And in some black circles, Johnson’s column has caused some black leaders consternation over the issue of racial diversity in the White House.
“What we’re looking for is a government that, at a minimum, has been better than any other president has ever been on diversity,” s Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, told POLITICO. “He’s not there yet, even though he’s African American.”
But Johnson used harsher words to make a similar point.