U. S. President Warren G. Harding, 55, just three months in office, spent the past weekend at the White House concerned about what message he needs to send. He decided to accept the invitation to give the commencement address at Lincoln University this Monday.
So before sunrise, he and his wife Florence, 60, drove about 45 miles from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they had stayed overnight with a friend, to this campus, outside of Oxford, Pennsylvania, the first all-Black degree-granting institution in the country.
The four cars carrying his entourage stop first at the granite arch on campus, where he helps to dedicate the memorial to Lincoln alumni who fought and died in the Great War.
President Harding at Lincoln University
The faculty and students of the “Black Princeton,” as the school is known, are immensely proud to have a sitting president of the United States deliver their commencement address. They feel it is the high point of their 67-year history.
Speaking without notes, Harding addresses the students as “my fellow countrymen” and stresses the importance of education in solving racial problems. But he cautions that government alone cannot “take a race from bondage to citizenship in half a century.”
Then he turns his remarks to the most pressing issue in the country: the massacre of at least 39 citizens in the all-Black neighborhood—called “The Black Wall Street”—in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just five days ago. Offering a prayer for the city, Harding says,
Despite the demagogues, the idea of our oneness as Americans has risen superior to every appeal to mere class and group. And so, I wish it might be in this matter of our national problem of races…God grant that, in the soberness, the fairness, and the justice of this country, we never see another spectacle like it.”
When he is finished, the President congratulates and shakes the hand of each individual graduate.
The damage to the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.