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Cal Thomas: Joe Biden vs. Calvin Coolidge at Howard

From the commentary: The president told the graduates the biggest threat to America is "white supremacy." Not China, Russia, the debt, or the open border? Nope. White supremacy.

Pres. Calvin Coolidge
Pres. Calvin Coolidge
Contributed / The White House

President Joe Biden delivered the commencement address last weekend at Howard University, a historically Black college in Washington, D.C., from which many students have gone on to great success.

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The president told the graduates the biggest threat to America is "white supremacy." Not China, Russia, the debt, or the open border? Nope. White supremacy.

Commencement speeches are supposed to be congratulatory, encouraging and optimistic. Instead, President Biden's speech sounded like he was warning about an America 100 years ago that featured a rise in the Ku Klux Klan and the lynching of Black people.

Contrast this downer of an address with what another president said nearly a century ago.

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Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, addressed Howard graduation on June 6, 1924. He titled it "The Progress of a People." His remarks were the opposite of Mr. Biden's. Possibly realizing some were still alive who remembered Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and some graduates may have known relatives who were slaves, Coolidge praised what he called "the Negro race" for their achievements out of difficult circumstances. He said, "the progress of the colored people on this continent is one of the marvels of modern history."

He called Howard "a great university, a sort of educational laboratory for the production of intellectual and spiritual leadership among a people whose history ... is one of the striking evidences of our civilization."

Coolidge praised "the accomplishments of the colored people in the United States in the brief historic period since they were brought here from the restrictions of their native continent..." He called those accomplishments "one of the marvels of modern history."

While acknowledging the "painful and difficult experience ... of Negro slavery in America, of civil war and emancipation," Coolidge noted the "rapid advancement of the American colored people both materially and spiritually...".

Coolidge credited Black men with helping to win World War I and suggested victory might not have come without their participation.

Sounding like a prophet, Coolidge said in the "history of the Negro race in America, we may find the evidence that the black man's probation on this continent was a necessary part in a great grand plan by which the race was to be saved to the world for a service which we are now able to vision and, even if yet somewhat dimly, to appreciate."

Keep in mind this was before the modern civil rights movement, which recognized Black people - indeed all people - are endowed by rights from their Creator and not given to them by government, although government's job is to protect those rights as we would come to see 40 years later when Congress began passing civil rights legislation over the opposition of Southern Democrats.

These two commencement addresses โ€” one from Biden, the other from Coolidge โ€” sound as if they could have been reversed. Biden's speech might have been more fitting in 1924 and Coolidge's in 2023. One was full of praise and optimism about the future and the value of African Americans; the other was depressing and invoked a false indictment of America from a president who ought to know better.

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Pandering is what you do when you disrespect your audience. Recall Biden once telling another Black audience that Republicans "want to put you back in chains."

Coolidge concluded his commencement speech with this: "We cannot go out from this place and occasion without refreshment of faith and renewal of confidence that in every exigency our Negro fellow citizens will render the best and fullest measure of service whereof they are capable."

If you are a Black student graduating this year, which speech would you have preferred to hear?

This Cal Thomas commentary is his opinion. He can be reached at cthomas@wctrib.com.

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