President Barack Obama brought the nation to its feet Friday when he eulogized Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state senator killed during last week’s massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The president, who sat front row with First Lady Michelle Obama, delivered the eulogy after friends of Rev. Pinckney’s spoke highly of the senator who understood that public service and service to God went hand-in-hand (As the president pointed out: “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides”).
And though no one reflection was more powerful than the next — all embodied the characteristics of compassion, humility, love and humor the reverend possessed — it was the president’s that is sure cause a stir with right-leaning media in coming days.
Amid growing scrutiny that the president either talks too little about race (or too much if you’re sitting in the right-wing of America), Obama used his time at the pulpit to both properly memorialize the innocent lives lost in the racially-fueled shooting, while clearly outlining that race, in fact, has everything to do with it.
And while gun control was also at the helm of the president’s eulogy, it was a conversation about the contentious relationship between African Americans and this nation that really stood out — no doubt galvanized by a years-worth of highly publicized and racially-tinged incidents that resulted in the death of Black people by either a white person or a system of state-sanctioned violence.
If ever there was a time for Obama to step out and acknowledge racism, this would be it. Take a look at his most notable race-related quotes from Rev. Pinckney’s eulogy.
Obama On The Confederate Flag, Slavery:
The president joined the ranks of politicians with his own opinion about the future of the Confederate flag, suggesting that while the removal would be a “modest” one, it’s an important one to start the process of reconciliation.
“A flag did not cause these murders,” the president said. “For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.” But “removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness, it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgement for the cause for which they fought, for slavery, is wrong…It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds…By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.”
Obama On Systemic Racism:
Using a mention of Jim Crow laws and segregation as a segue, President Obama discussed the often ignored racial injustices felt by marginalized communities today. And in a quote that is sure to live on the internet for some time, Obama asked the age-old question — why does Johnny get the job, but not Jamal?
“For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present,” Obama said. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career…Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias…Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.”
Obama On Domestic Terrorism:
While the FBI has been slow to label the AME shooting one of terroristic nature, President Obama took the time to point out that Black churches have historically been targeted in an effort to oppress and stifle Black freedom. More explicitly, the president used the term we’ve been waiting on — terror — to describe the shooting that left nine god-fearing and innocent people dead.
“[The shooting] was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin,” Obama said. Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas. He didn’t know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.”
Obama on the History of Black Churches:
In a stream of thoughts delivered with the measured cadence of a true preacher, President Obama not only talked about race, but what the Black church means for African American communities in an effort to highlight how the AME shooting was an attack on the very fabric of Black life.
“The church is and always has been the center of African American life,” he said. “A place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships. Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah.” Rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement. They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.”
Obama’s message? Simply put, race is important. And we need to not only talk about it…we should be about it.
“We talk a lot about race,” he said. “There is no short cut, we don’t need more talk. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merit of various policies as our democracy requires. There are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. To go back to business as usual as we so often do.”
For more on the president’s speech, including his beautiful and unexpected rendition of ‘Amazing Grace,’ see here.
You can also watch the president’s eulogy in its entirety in the video above.
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