What was the Reverend Wright controversy? What did it have to do with Barack Obama?
The Reverend Wright controversy took place in March 2008, a critical time during Barack Obama’s campaign. Obama addressed the controversy, which included an inflammatory speech.
Read more about the Reverend Wright controversy below.
What Was the Reverend Wright Controversy?
In March 2008, the campaign was upended when footage surfaced of Reverend Jeremiah Wright—Barack and Michelle’s pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ—delivering a fiery sermon in which he shouted the phrase “God damn America.” Wright also made remarks praising Nation of Islam leader (and notorious anti-Semite) Louis Farrakhan and claiming that the HIV virus had been deliberately released into the Black community by the U.S. government.
Obama knew this story would cause major trouble for his campaign. He understood the context in which Reverend Wright had given his remarks. Although Wright was a serious theologian and respected figure within Chicago’s religious community, he also had a propensity to give voice to pent-up feelings of collective Black anger over America’s clear and undeniable legacy of racial injustice.
Thus, an ordinary sermon might be peppered with references to slavery, Jim Crow, and the mass incarceration of young Black men as a result of the War on Drugs. In its proper context, such rhetorical flourishes made sense and were generally uncontroversial. But thrown into the context of a presidential election featuring an African-American candidate, they proved explosive.
Despite the political pain Wright was causing him, Obama felt empathy for his pastor. Wright could indeed sometimes channel the voice and persona of a 1960s radical. Especially when he knew he was speaking to primarily Black audiences at his church. But Obama also knew that Wright was a serious theologian and thoughtful, nuanced figure. He deserved far better than the caricature that was being made of him by the national media.
Thankfully, the Reverend Wright controversy didn’t seriously affect Obama’s campaign for president. Obama continued to have a relationship with the reverend he respected.
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