Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama talks with Howard University Chairwoman Emerita Dr. Floretta Dukes McKensie after delivering a convocation address and receiving an honorary law degree. (AP photo)
Barack Obama today welcomed first-year students to Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, urging them to continue the civil rights work their forebears have started.
Obama connected civil rights struggles of the present -- including the "Jena 6" case involving six black teenagers in Jena, La. -- with civil rights struggles of the past, like the integration of Little Rock Central High School a half-century ago. He used the biblical story of Moses and Joshua to make his point -- Moses led his people toward the Promised Land, but Joshua had to finish the job.
"Be strong and have courage in the face of injustice," Obama said, according to prepared remarks. "Be strong and have courage in the face of prejudice and hatred. Be strong and have courage in the face of joblessness and helplessness and hopelessness. Be strong and have courage, in the face of our doubts and fears, in the face of skepticism, in the face of cynicism, in the face of a mighty river."
Obama, who received an honorary Howard degree, used his speech to lay out civil rights policies he would pursue as president, including directing his Department of Justice to prosecute civil rights violations, employment discrimination, and hate crimes, as well as violations of voting rights; recruiting more public defenders through loan forgiveness; bringing the penalties for crack and cocaine into more appropriate alignment; and directing some non-violent drug offenders into rehab programs instead of jail. Read Obama's full plan here.
Two other pieces worth reading today: this story in The Washington Post about Obama hiring Moses Mercado, a former Dick Gephardt adviser and lobbyist, as a senior adviser; and this story in today's New York Times about a Kenyan parliamentary candidate trying to capitalize on his self-described ties to Obama.