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The Preacher and the Politician

Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama, and Race in America

Clarence E. Walker and Gregory D. Smithers

Publication Year: 2009

Barack Obama’s inauguration as the first African American president of the United States has caused many commentators to conclude that America has entered a postracial age. The Preacher and the Politician argues otherwise, reminding us that, far from inevitable, Obama’s nomination was nearly derailed by his relationship with Jeremiah Wright, the outspoken former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago. The media storm surrounding Wright’s sermons, the historians Clarence E. Walker and Gregory D. Smithers suggest, reveals that America’s fraught racial past is very much with us, only slightly less obvious.

With meticulous research and insightful analysis, Walker and Smithers take us back to the Democratic primary season of 2008, viewing the controversy surrounding Wright in the context of enduring religious, political, and racial dynamics in American history. In the process they expose how the persistence of institutional racism, and racial stereotypes, became a significant hurdle for Obama in his quest for the presidency.

The authors situate Wright's preaching in African American religious traditions dating back to the eighteenth century, but they also place his sermons in a broader prophetic strain of Protestantism that transcends racial categories. This latter connection was consistently missed or ignored by pundits on the right and the left who sought to paint the story in simplistic, and racially defined, terms. Obama’s connection with Wright gave rise to criticism that, according to Walker and Smithers, sits squarely in the American political tradition, where certain words are meant to incite racial fear, in the case of Obama with charges that the candidate was unpatriotic, a Marxist, a Black Nationalist, or a Muslim.

Once Obama became the Democratic nominee, the day of his election still saw ballot measures rejecting affirmative action and undermining the civil rights of other groups. The Preacher and the Politician is a concise and timely study that reminds us of the need to continue to confront the legacy of racism even as we celebrate advances in racial equality and opportunity.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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“They Didn’t Give Us Our Mule and Our Acre”: Introduction

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pp. 1-11

“They didn’t give us our mule and our acre, but things are better.” 1 With these words, Miss Harris, a sixty-seven-year-old veteran of the civil rights movement, celebrated Barack Obama’s stunning victory over his Republican Party rival...

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The “Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost”: Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama, and the Black Church

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pp. 13-51

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago, sparked outrage in large sections of the United States in February and March 2008, after the contents of his post-9/11 sermons were...

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“I Don’t Want People to Pretend I’m Not Black”: Barack Obama and America’s Racial History

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pp. 53-98

The media controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright demonstrated how racial issues continue to divide Americans. As we noted in the preceding chapter, Obama was a member of a black church whose minister...

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“To Choose Our Better History”?: Epilogue

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pp. 99-104

On January 20, 2009, Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the forty-fourth president of the United States. A million or so people, from throughout the United States and abroad, crammed onto the Washington Mall to glimpse history in the making: the...

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Text of Barack Obama’s March 18, 2008, Speech on Race

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pp. 105-119

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” Two hundred and twenty-one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in...


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pp. 121-154


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pp. 155-159

E-ISBN-13: 9780813929200
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813928869

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2009