Despite objections from alumni, LaGrange College still is welcoming U.S. Rep. John Lewis to campus for a speech next week in the wake of the Georgia congressman’s controversial criticism of President-elect Donald Trump.
As the nation celebrated the holiday honoring the civil rights legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the college released a statement Monday titled “Lewis appearance at LaGrange College drawing protests” and said the college is “standing behind its decision” to have Lewis deliver the institution’s annual MLK address on Jan. 26 at 3:30 p.m. in Callaway Auditorium.
“In addition to broad support, a few objections were received from alumni, upset with Lewis’ recent comments regarding the election of Donald Trump and interference with the election process by Russia,” the news release says.
Asked what form those objections took, LaGrange College spokeswoman Debby Baker told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “At this point, comments on Facebook and Twitter. Because it’s a holiday weekend and the president hasn’t been in his office, not sure if he’s had calls. Most objections seem to be coming from alumni who were enrolled in the 1960s.”
Asked how many objections the college has received, Baker said “less than a dozen.”
Baker emailed the Ledger-Enquirer a sampling of the objections the college has received via Twitter, Facebook and email:
▪ “Why would you have someone who calls in to question the legitimacy of President Elect Trump at our College?? Bad move no matter what he has done in his lifetime to have him speak to the students. We think you should reconsider!”
▪ “I am so very disappointed in the news that John Lewis will speak at LaGrange College on MLK Day. There are so many more appropriate individuals/speakers who could have been selected to present this message on this day. I can only hope that the choices made by the school leadership will improve in the future.”
▪ “I wanted to express my disappointment in seeing that Rep John Lewis will be speaking at LC, where I attended and graduated.”
▪ “It saddens me to see my college continue to bring nothing but liberals and tree huggers on campus to speak to today’s students. You have now invited the worst one yet in Mr. Lewis. I will be interested to see who comes to speak at commencement in May.”
In the news release, LaGrange College president Dan McAlexander called Lewis “a great American hero of the civil rights movement.”
“As a compatriot of Dr. King and as one who has led his life in accord with the nonviolent principles espoused by him, often at great cost to his own freedom and physical well-being, he was chosen as a most appropriate speaker for the occasion,” McAlexander said.
McAlexander noted Lewis also spoke at the college in 2006, unanimously approved by the board of trustees to be the commencement speaker.
LaGrange College hosts the Racial Trust Building Initiative, a multiracial group formed by the mayors of LaGrange, Hogansville and West Point to discuss issues that divide the community and find ways of addressing them.
“We are proud to be involved with this very important work,” McAlexander said.
The college routinely offers a wide variety of events and speakers, McAlexander said.
“Our invitations never imply institutional agreement with everything individuals might say,” McAlexander said. “Likewise, our students are accustomed to hearing from speakers who represent a wide political spectrum, and we are confident they possess the critical-thinking ability to value a lifetime of service, while perhaps disagreeing with statements of that individual.”
NBC News released on Friday excerpts of its interview with Lewis, which was televised Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Lewis said on the program, “I don’t see the President-elect as a legitimate president,” referring to the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computer network to help Trump, the Republican nominee, win the election.
“I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected,” Lewis told NBC. “And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. I don’t plan to attend the inauguration. It will be the first one that I miss since I’ve been in the Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.”
Trump responded via Twitter on Saturday morning:
“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!”
Then on Saturday night, Trump added in another Twitter post, “Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!”