The following is a release from Citizens for Change:
Morehouse College alumni are outraged by the college’s decision to disinvite fellow alum, the Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, Senior Pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, as the baccalaureate speaker on May 18. After being announced to alumni and the college community as the baccalaureate speaker, Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. contacted Johnson on April 15th via phone to inform him of the decision due to concerns about views Johnson expressed in an opinion editorial in The Philadelphia Tribune and stated that the article was “untimely” given that President Obama is the 2013 Commencement speaker, a day after Baccalaureate.
The article entitled, “A President for Everyone, Except Black People,” was published on April 14th and respectfully criticized the lack of African-American appointees in President Barack Obama’s cabinet and challenged the lack of policies specifically designed to reduce poverty.
On April 15 and April 16, coincidentally the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Wilson contacted Johnson and encouraged him to resign as the speaker, a suggestion Johnson refused. Wilson then proposed that Johnson agree to be one of three speakers for the event. Johnson refused this offer as well on the grounds that it was a departure from the college’s tradition of having one baccalaureate speaker, and all initial representations made to him.
Accentuating the principle of free speech, Johnson said, “I have always been and continue to be a supporter of President Obama. The issue is not about the article in question, but about Morehouse’s longstanding history and pedagogy of free thought and free speech. Without free thought and free speech, Morehouse would not have produced our most admired alumnus, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Johnson submitted a letter to Wilson on April 17th insisting that Wilson honor his original invitation. Instead, President Wilson proceeded to replace Johnson with three new baccalaureate speakers — Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, Senior Pastor of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and a graduating senior. The college posted Warnock and Moss’ names on its website on April 23rd as the speakers, but quickly removed their names from the site on April 25th after Warnock and Moss withdrew their names.
Growing concern is mounting among Morehouse College alumni regarding President Wilson’s handling of this situation. Many regard the college’s change of course as an affront to the liberal arts tradition of intellectual freedom and critical thought, and out of step with the institution’s academic tradition.
Rev. Delman Coates, Ph.D., Senior Pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD made his opinions known as well.
“Morehouse College is founded upon the ideals of spirituality, scholarship, and leadership,” he said. “The public ministry of Dr. Kevin Johnson is fully compatible with the College’s brand and tradition of intellectual inquiry and prophetic moral critique. The idea that Dr. Johnson’s views disqualify him as a candidate to deliver the Morehouse baccalaureate address is quite disturbing.
The views expressed in the article in question are consistent with views he has expressed in his monthly columns and national media appearances. If the goal here is to subject potential speakers to an ideological litmus test as a precondition for speaking during this historic weekend at Morehouse, the college administration should have done its due diligence in thoroughly vetting the potential speaker in advance of extending the invitation.
Dr. Johnson represents the best of the Morehouse tradition and the best of engaged political support of President Obama, even if at times critical of the President. Whether one agrees with Johnson or not, the coalition of Obama supporters consists of people with varying viewpoints, and of varying points of agreement and disagreement with the Obama Administration.
Punishing the expression of political dissent is the wrong message to send young African-American men charged with being global citizens in a diverse world.”
Dr. Johnson, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College, served with distinction as a Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel Assistant eventually becoming the King Scholar. Later, he furthered his studies as a Union Scholar at Union Theological Seminary in New York and ultimately earning a doctorate from Columbia University.
“Kevin is not just a Morehouse man,” said Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Senior Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and President of SUNY Old Westbury, “he is a stellar example of the College’s rich tradition of producing outstanding leaders in this century who are well-educated, forward-thinking, community-conscious, and global citizens.”
Many Morehouse College alumni point to the words of the College’s most-celebrated president, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, who said: “We want Morehouse men to develop keen minds, steel girded character, a social conscience, and above all, we want Morehouse men to be free.” Morehouse College prides itself on preparing young African-American men to be socially active and leaders in their community.
“If President Wilson turns his back on one of our most distinguished alums because of an exercise of free speech and political commentary, he will have set Morehouse on a dangerous course and departed from the great tradition bequeathed to us,” said the Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, Senior Pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco. “In 1947, Dr. King warned that, ‘If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!’ We are potentially witnessing the realization of King’s greatest fears.”
The concerned alumni are demanding that Dr. Wilson reaffirm and honor his April 2nd invitation to Dr. Johnson to be the 2013 Baccalaureate speaker and continue and honor the College’s 146-year-old proud tradition of promoting thoughtful leaders equipped to make a positive impact on the world.
Morehouse Alumni Urging Morehouse to Reinstate Johnson:
Reverend Dr. Delman Coates, Mt. ’95, Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, Clinton, MD
Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, ’71, The Abyssinian Baptist Church, Harlem, NY
Reverend Dr. Amos Brown, ’64, Third Baptist Church, San Francisco, CA
Reverend Dr. Joseph C. Parker, Jr., ’74, David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Austin, TX
Reverend Michael Walrond, ’93 First Corinthian Baptist Church, Harlem, NY
Reverend Dr. Jawanza Colvin, ’97 Olivet Institution Baptist Church, Cleveland, OH
Reverend DeQuincy M. Hentz, ’96, Shiloh Baptist Church, New Rochelle, NY
Reverend Steven Carter, ’97 Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, Brooklyn, NY
Reverend Dr. David Bullock, ’96, Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church, Detroit, MI
Reverend Thomas L. Bowen, ’90, Shiloh Baptist Church, Washington, DC
Reverend Richard Brown, III, ’96, The Rock Church, Toledo, OH
Michael L. Bowen, ’95, Wylie, TX