Last weekend First Lady Michelle Obama travelled to Tuskegee University to deliver remarks to the graduating class of 2015. Tuskegee’s mark in American history is significant — founder Booker T. Washington was born a slave, and the original Tuskegee campus was once the site of a 100-acre plantation. Washington would become the first black guest to dine at the White House when he accepted President Theodore Roosevelt’s invitation to dinner on October 16, 1901, at a time no one in America would have believed President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama would take up residence in the People’s House barely more than 100 years later.
Commencement addresses are typically of a joyous nature, and the First Lady did not disappoint as she started her remarks describing the remarkable achievements of the new graduates before her. This is where the tone and tenor of her remarks took a somewhat unexpected turn. Mrs. Obama rightly praised the “double duty” of the Tuskegee Airmen where she noted “[A duty] to their country and another to all the black folks who were counting on them to pave the way forward. So for those Airmen, the act of flying itself was a symbol of liberation for themselves and for all African Americans.” Here is where her remarks hit a bit of turbulence, which has reverberated on cable news and newspaper op-ed pages ever since.