Maryland Gov. Wes Moore delivered the keynote address at Morehouse College in Atlanta on Sunday morning, where he urged 2023 graduates to know their history, celebrate it, and push back against attempts to erase it.
Moore, who was elected as the state’s first Black governor last fall, received an honorary doctorate from the all-male Historically Black College before addressing the 400-plus graduates, their families, and staff members on its Century Campus.
In his speech, the governor used his words to not only encourage graduates but tackle some of the nation’s most polarizing political issues head-on, which he began by acknowledging the past.
“While each of you worked very hard to get here, this degree is not a product of your hard work alone,” he said. “As a Black man in America, we know that our present is a result of the fights and the struggles and the victories of the past.”
Moore underscored that each student stands on the shoulders of civil rights pioneers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin E. Mays, and many others who made sacrifices to achieve progress, knowing that their goals might not be realized in their lifetimes.
As he stood before the crowd, he spoke on the importance of knowing one’s history and how knowing his history helped guide him as he pursued his political aspirations in the state of Maryland, which was once home to one of the nation’s largest slave ports.
“A few years ago, nobody would have believed that I could be elected governor of my state. And it wasn’t just because I was polling at 1%… It’s because nobody thought that people who look like you and like me could lead Maryland,” he said.
He said that when people would ask him why he thought he had a shot at winning, he would reply, “Because I know our full history.”
“Maryland has a long and troubled history, absolutely. But Maryland also has a history of courage. A history of leaders and thinkers and writers and scholars, people who struggled but had the strength to overcome,” Moore said.
Referencing trailblazers such as Reginald Lewis, the first Black man in US history to develop a multibillion-dollar firm, and Lillie May Jackson, the mother of the civil rights movement who formed the Baltimore NAACP, he called on Morehouse graduates to hold their history close because that, he said will give them wisdom and strength.
“Men of Morehouse, I stand before you as the first Black governor of my state and only the third Black governor ever to be elected in the history of this country with a very simple message: Our history is our power.”
Amid statewide book bans and changes to curricula from conservative lawmakers, the Democratic governor challenged graduates to confront attempts to erase Black history and the history of other marginalized groups.
“This is being done under the guise of we don’t want people to feel bad about their history, and that’s just not true,” he told ESSENCE. “The reason it’s being done is because by erasing history, you’re also eliminating your power because then you don’t have a context of your journey.”
“I encourage the graduates and ask them to make sure that they’re going out and not just learning their history, but defending it and sharing it and pushing back when we see this because if you understand your past, you understand your path. And if you don’t, then you will repeatedly find yourself giving into a false narrative,” he added.
Governor Moore ended by charging Morehouse graduates to practice, preserve and protect their history and also participate by making their own history.
“I am calling on you to recognize the power of your history and to use it for the betterment of all of our mankind,” he said.