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Biden will cap off a week of outreach to Black Americans with Morehouse commencement

Family members of plaintiffs in the historic <em>Brown v. Board of Education</em> met with President Biden to mark the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.
Susan Walsh
Family members of plaintiffs in the historic Brown v. Board of Education met with President Biden to mark the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision.

Updated May 17, 2024 at 12:23 PM ET

President Biden is engaged in a flurry of events this week centered around the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that ended racial segregation in public schools, part of an intensified push to court Black voters crucial to his reelection bid.

On Sunday, he will give a closely watched commencement speech to Morehouse College, a historically Black university in Georgia.

Biden held a private meeting with plaintiffs and family members of plaintiffs from the Brown case on Thursday at the White House, and on Friday, he gave remarks at an NAACP event marking the Brown anniversary at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. On the weekend, he heads to the swing state of Michigan, where he'll address an NAACP dinner in Detroit.

The Biden campaign said the engagement was a signal of how the administration has prioritized issues important to Black voters — and how it is working to earn their support.

"We are not, and will not, parachute into these communities at the last minute, expecting their vote," said Trey Baker, a senior adviser to the campaign, in a memo.

Biden's other engagements include a meeting with the Divine Nine, a group of historically Black sororities and fraternities, and interviews with Black media outlets. On Sunday, he will also visit a Black-owned small business in Detroit, Baker said.

Polling shows lack of enthusiasm among Black voters

Black voters have long been the backbone of the Democratic party, and helped ensure Biden's win in 2020. But if turnout is lower this year compared to four years ago, it could hurt Biden's chances for reelection.

A recent survey from the Washington Post and Ipsos showed that only 62% of Black voters said that they are absolutely certain to vote this year, compared to 74% this time in 2020.

The poll also showed that just 38% of Black Americans feel Biden's policies have helped Black people, something Biden tried to explain more on in media appearances this week.

Talking over the phone to Atlanta radio show host Darian "Big Tigger" Morgan for his morning show this week, Biden listed offwhat he says he's done for Black Americans, including lowering unemployment rates and cancelling some student debt. He also went after his opponent.

President Biden speaks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on May 17.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on May 17.

"Trump hurt Black people every chance he got," Biden said.

In his speech on Friday, Biden told the NAACP that "an extreme movement led by my predecessor and his MAGA allies" was today's "insidious" version of the resistance faced by the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas, after the Brown decision.

Biden blamed former President Donald Trump for naming justices to the Supreme Court who then ended affirmation action for college admissions — and for working to end diversity, equity and inclusion programs across the country.

"They want a country for some, and not for all," Biden said.

The week's events will culminate with the president's commencement address at Morehouse

On Sunday, Biden will cap off his week giving the commencement address at Morehouse College.

His visit there has already received pushback from students, who have been critical of Biden in his handling of Israel's war in Gaza. The university's president David Thomastold NPR that he would halt the commencement ceremonies altogether if protests became too disruptive.

"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," Thomas said.

Steve Benjamin, who leads the White House Office of Public Engagement, visited the campus to meet with some students and faculty earlier this week.

"The common thread was that they wanted to make sure we're centering the young people and that the president did that on Sunday," Benjamin said. "The goal will be to make sure we use this as an opportunity to continue to elevate the amazing work that's been done at Morehouse."

He stressed the investments the Biden administration has made in HBCUs. Since taking office, the Biden administration has funded $16 billion in support for HBCUs.

In his remarks to the NAACP, Biden paid tribute to Morehouse's history. The college was started after the Civil War to give freed slaves education and training to become ministers.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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