Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, who headed the Department during President Obama’s second term, seems to have successfully advocated for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak at his college graduation in 1979, according to a graduation speech of his own that Johnson delivered in 2014.
On May 18th, 2014, Johnson gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Morehouse College. Unsurprisingly, Johnson devoted a large portion of his speech to reflect on his own Morehouse experiences as an undergraduate student in the late 1970s, in which he fondly recalled how he first discovered his passion for activism there. On a more surprising note, Johnson also brazenly admitted that he and other student activists in his class were behind the effort to get Farrakhan as their graduation speaker, and claimed that they clashed over it with Dr. Hugh Gloster, the President of Morehouse at the time, who wanted to get a “mainstream” speaker.
“By our senior year, Dr. Gloster was glad to see the class of 1979 leave his school, but not without one more fight,” Johnson reminisced. “Dr. Gloster had invited a civil rights leader of national stature to be our commencement speaker. We told Dr. Gloster his choice was not acceptable. To us, the speaker was too mainstream, and I now realize I am out on a limb with John. So, in 1979, our baccalaureate speaker was Louis Farrakhan,” Johnson told the audience. “And our commencement speaker was Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the revolutionary movement in Zimbabwe.”
After casually admitting that he apparently supported Farrakhan when he was a senior in college, Johnson dove into a more broad discussion of the “transformational” academic, intellectual, and personal development he underwent during his college years. His candid remarks about his push to have Farrakhan as Morehouse College’s 1979 baccalaureate speaker begin at the 5:38 mark:
Before leading DHS, Johnson served as the Defense Department’s General Counsel during Obama’s first term and as the Air Force’s General Counsel for the final two years of Clinton’s second term. Earlier in his speech, he recounted how he first became committed to political and social activism shortly after he arrived at Morehouse. “I realized I was in a special place, a kingdom. I became proud of who I was, and what I was about to come,” Johnson described. “But for those of us who were freshmen here in 1975, something was missing. The ambition, the energy, the talent was here, but the great struggles on the Civil Rights Movement – the marches, the sit-ins, the freedom rides – were largely over.”
“We in the class of 1979 were quite literally rebels without a cause. We looked for anything about which to protest or march,” Johnson told the new graduates in the audience, who gave him a long, loud applause when he concluded his address. Johnson included various stories from his formative years like these throughout his speech, looking back on them with fondness and adding to them with new observations and wisdom. However, he curiously does not explain what compelled him to push for Farrakhan as one of his graduation speakers.
Regrettably, Farrakhan’s 1979 speech at Morehouse’s graduation seems to have been an effective recruiting tool for his hateful movement. Last month, conservative radio talk show host Kim Wade told the biweekly evangelical WORLD magazine that hearing Farrakhan’s speech that day inspired him to drift towards the Nation of Islam’s poisonous ideology for a few years, although he eventually rejected its bigoted views. According to the WORLD piece, which quotes Wade on Mississippi’s new civil rights museum, “During his 1979 graduation from Morehouse College, he fell captive to the words of the commencement speaker, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Wade says he spent his next years ‘dining at the banquet table of hate’ before returning to the Christian faith of his family.”
Recently, a number of public figures on the left have come under increased scrutiny over their ties to Farrakhan, an infamous bigot who has once again been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. On February 25th, Farrakhan went on various unhinged rants against Jews, whites, and women during a speech he gave in Chicago to an audience of 10,000 – an audience that included Tamika Mallory, a national co-chair of the Women’s March who has praised a good deal of Farrakhan’s other work. And in January, a photo surfaced of Johnson’s old boss, President Obama, smiling with Farrakhan in 2005 at a previously unknown meeting that the CBC invited him to.
Stay tuned for more.
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