Joe Biden on Sunday delivers a commencement address at Morehouse College, a venue offering the U.S. president an election-year opportunity to address anger over his support for Israel and to repair bonds with young Black men.

Israel's invasion of Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, youth discontent with the Democratic incumbent and a close 2024 race have contributed to an unusually high profile for what in other years and on other campuses is normally a platitude-laden speech of encouragement for new graduates.

This year, Biden is hoping for buzz-worthy, breakthrough moments that can sell his vision to jaded voters who approve of his policies but are not sold on the 81-year-old candidate himself. Campaign officials have flagged signs of diminished enthusiasm among younger Black men in particular.

Biden has for several days worked with senior aides on the speech he will deliver at Morehouse, the men's college founded in 1867 to educate Black people newly liberated from slavery, and whose alumni includes the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The U.S. president has lavished attention on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), directed billions in extra funding to them and praised them as tools of enhanced economic mobility.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted this month showed Biden tied with Republican candidate Donald Trump for voters under 40, a group Biden carried by double-digit percentage points in 2020. A Washington Post/Ipsos poll last month showed that just 62% of Black voters say they are absolutely certain to vote, down from 74% roughly four years ago. Nine in ten Black voters supported Biden in 2020, surveys found.

Sunday's speech comes amid of a flurry of Biden engagements focused on African American issues. Later on Sunday, he is expected to attend the Detroit NAACP's Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner in the competitive state of Michigan.


Morehouse sits on a leafy 66-acre (27 hectare) campus near downtown Atlanta, the biggest city in Georgia - one of the most competitive battleground states in the 2024 race. In 2020, Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.

White House aides have sounded out the mood on campus in recent weeks, where some staff and students have called for the president's invitation to be rescinded over his support for Israel and their discomfort with an address during campaign season. The college's president, David Thomas, has vowed to shut down the ceremony if it is disrupted.

"I hear a lot of complaining, a lot of lamenting that he's coming to the school. People say he's just doing this to garner votes," said Morehouse freshman political science major Justin Clopton. "My response to that is, yes, obviously."

Many Black men consulted in Democratic focus groups report being underwhelmed by their economic prospects and progress on issues from student loans to criminal justice reform after delivering the Democratic party control of two houses of Congress and the White House in 2020.

Some Black students, meanwhile, have drawn parallels between the experience of stateless Palestinians and historical experiences in apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South, which motivated earlier generations of protest. Israeli and U.S. officials reject those comparisons.

But Morehouse and other historically Black colleges and universities have not been as convulsed by the sometimes violent protests like those that led to the cancellation of graduation ceremonies at Columbia University and the University of Southern California. Many of Biden's top aides regard the protests as not reflective of the majority view of voters.

Students and faculty privately asked the White House that Biden not to deliver a campaign speech laden with references to Trump but said they did want to hear about economic opportunities aided by U.S. government policy, according to a person familiar with the conversations who declined to be named.

Biden, who speaks next week to graduates at the United States Military Academy, has maintained longstanding U.S. arms support for Israel despite the mounting death toll of its campaign in Gaza.

But he has also threatened to cut off aid if Israel pursues its offensive in Rafah, where many civilians are taking refuge. He has also reiterated support for a two-state solution and backed humanitarian relief for Gaza.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose and Alyssa Pointer, editing by Deepa Babington)