WASHINGTON (RNS) Morehouse College announced on Wednesday (May 15) that a critic of President Obama will deliver a baccalaureate sermon as part of graduation festivities this weekend after all.
Philadelphia pastor and 1996 Morehouse alumnus Kevin Johnson will deliver the sermon on Saturday afternoon, one day before the president is set to deliver his commencement address at the Atlanta college.
In early April, the college invited Johnson to deliver the traditional graduation weekend sermon. But weeks after extending the invitation, Morehouse President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. — who previously headed the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities — contacted Johnson and informed him that he had decided to change Johnson’s address into a “multi-speaker” event to broaden the views represented after Johnson penned a scathing criticism of Obama in The Philadelphia Tribune.
Johnson declined the offer under the new terms and charged in a letter to Wilson that he was “disinvited” over the opinion piece. Several alumni of the all-men’s college also criticized Wilson for the decision.
“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 and a Morehouse alumnus, told USA Today this month. “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?”
Wilson said in a statement on Wednesday that Johnson will deliver the sermon and two recent alumni would deliver baccalaureate hermeneutics to the graduating class.
“The focus of commencement weekend should be on the graduates, their families and the historic visit by the president of the United States,” Wilson said.
The Philadelphia Tribune op-ed by Johnson ran with the headline “A President for Everyone. Except Black People.” Johnson wrote, “When one compares the first African-American president to his recent predecessors, the number of African-Americans in senior Cabinet positions is very disappointing.”
In a statement issued by Morehouse on Wednesday, Johnson said he was humbled by the opportunity.
“I commend President Wilson and his administration for continuing the Morehouse traditions of free thought and free speech,” he said.
AMB END MADHANI