Obama confronts legacy of racial division

March 19, 2008 6:53:04 PM PDT
Senator Obama confronted America's racial divide head on what may prove to be the most important speech of his presidential campaign.

Senator Obama tackled the issue of race relations and the incendiary remarks of his former pastor -- remarks which have drawn growing attention over the past week.

He delivered a speech that will continue to echo though this presidential campaign season, and beyond.

He condemned the racial remarks made by his former pastor and then at the same time, embraced the man who made them.

He challenged America to continue on the path to a more perfect union.

Barack Obama began with the Constitution, and then laid out the path to that more perfect union as a historical and ongoing journey.

"If we talk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like healthcare or education," said Presidential Hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D) Illinois.

He condemned the statements of his former pastor reverend jeremiah wright, but Obama said those words that have caused a firestorm were wrong, but he wouldn't turn his back on the man who said them.

"As imperfect as he may be he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated at my wedding and baptized my children," said Senator Obama.

Obama said he could no more disown Rev. Wright than he could his own white grandmother.

"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," said Senator Obama.

Hillary Clinton supporter Reverend Cecil Williams calls Obama's speech brilliant, particularly in the way he didn't turn his back on his former pastor.

"He just doesn't agree with folks all of the time. There are measures in times when you have to disagree. But that does not mean that they have to go away," said Reverend Cecil Williams from Glide Memorial Church.

In Oakland, Reverend Charley Hames supports Barack Obama. He grew up on Chicago's Southside and knew Reverend Wright and Trinity United Church.

"We're talking about a person who served our country as a U.S. Marine, a person who grew up in the sixties, a person who grew up though those struggles of civil rights," said Reverend Charley Hames.

Tony West sits on Obama's Leadership Council. He is the grandson of a Methodist minister, who says fiery rhetoric is not uncommon.

"You will hear strong statements made from the pulpits of many of the black churches in this nation, which is not surprising given the history of the black church and the history of African Americans in this country," said Tony West from the Obama campaign.

Senator Barack Obama challenged all Americans to address those issues and move forward.

ABC7 Political Analyst Bruce Cain says politically this speech will serve Obama should he get the democratic nomination.

"These are all issues that will come up in the fall and so it makes sense to just disclose everything have a national discussion about it and make it be old news by the time you get to the fall," said ABC7 Political Analyst Bruce Cain, Ph.D.

To judge the impact of the speech that was made in Philadelphia, in five weeks, voters in Pennsylvania will cast their ballots in the Democratic primary.

Watch Sen. Obama's entire speech:

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3


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