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Morehouse College Draws Fire Over Obama Critic’s Role at Commencement

Morehouse College’s president is facing a controversy over what role a critic of President Obama will play at the historically black institution’s graduation ceremonies, where Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak on May 19.

The Washington Post reports that the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, a Morehouse alumnus who leads a Baptist church in Philadelphia, will speak at the baccalaureate ceremony, one day before the president speaks. Pastor Johnson wrote an article published last month in The Philadelphia Tribune called “A President for Everyone, Except Black People.” The piece criticized Mr. Obama for not appointing more African-Americans to his cabinet, and said that Mr. Obama “has not moved African-American leadership forward, but backwards.”

After the piece was published, Morehouse’s president, John S. Wilson Jr., asked Pastor Johnson to speak as part of a three-person panel, rather than by himself, “to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.”

Critics accused Mr. Wilson, who led the White House’s program on black colleges before taking the helm at Morehouse in January, of censorship. In a letter to the campus, Mr. Wilson denied those charges and said his request had been wrongly construed as an attempt to disinvite Pastor Johnson from the ceremonies. “These allegations are fundamentally deleterious and are undeserved,” he wrote.

Mr. Wilson said in an interview with the newspaper that he was negotiating with Pastor Johnson, but that “commencement weekend is for the graduates, their families, and the visit by the president of the United States. Everything revolves around that precious principle.”

He said the college was “not entirely happy” that the baccalaureate program was not resolved, calling the issue “a delicate situation.” He added that he was confident the college would resolve the matter.

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