Obama talks race at Constitution Center

Last Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama confidently addressed the issue of race in America.

Barack Obama by Christopher Wink Mar 2008
Senator Barack Obama speaks at the National Constitution Center on March 18, 2008. Photo by Christopher Wink.

It was time.

Last Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama confidently addressed the issue of race in America. As he stood alone on the stage with only a row of American flags to his back, he delivered his speech, titled, “A More Perfect Union,” at the National Constitution Center.

Security was tight at the Constitution Center as only a small, intimate crowd was allowed in to see the Democratic presidential candidate deliver his speech.

Obama’s speech in Philadelphia came on the heels of a controversy that leaked onto YouTube and computer screens nationwide in recent weeks. A video of Obama’s longtime pastor, mentor and friend, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., showed excerpts of Wright’s sermons, in which he made inflammatory and racist remarks.

Wright officiated at the Obama’s wedding, baptized his two children and inspired his book, The Audacity of Hope.

In his speech, Obama acknowledged that his pastor has made unwelcome comments.

“We’ve heard my former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation — that rightly offend white and black alike,” Obama said.

Obama denounced Wright’s choices and words and stressed the importance of uniting rather than segregating and dividing.

“As such, Rev. Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change – problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all,” Obama said.

But rather than ending their relationship, Obama spoke courageously.

“I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community,” Obama said. “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, expressed truth in his speech about the nature of sermons given in many Christian African-American churches.
“The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Rev. Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning,” Obama said.

On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that Obama did not attend Easter services at his Chicago church, Trinity United Church of Christ. Wright retired last month, but will still keep the title of senior pastor. Rev. Otis Moss now leads the congregation. According to the AP, Moss said the controversy surrounding Wright has opened new doors to discussions on race in his congregation.

Melissa DiPento can be reached at mdipento@temple.edu.

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