Barack Obama Amazing Grace
Published: June 28, 2015
Barack Obama Amazing Grace, In an address unlike any other given by this president – or by any before him – Barack Obama on Friday farewelled his friend, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down while leading bible study in the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Obama is normally almost painfully delicate when he addresses race in America, aware he might alienate parts of his white audience and inflame the wounds he is trying to heal.
On this day Obama spoke directly to mourning African Americans, addressing them in the language and cadence of a preacher.
And then, flanked by African American clergy, he led a rendition of Amazing Grace, the hymn written by a reformed English slaver that has become the emblematic African American spiritual symbol.
It was a powerful act of solidarity by a president who has been subject to years of coded racist barbs.
“What a good man,” the president said of Reverend Pinckney, who was 41 when he was murdered with eight of his congregants.
“Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogised, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.”
He described Rev Pinckney, who was also a state senator, as one of a long line of preachers and activists who was, “in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23”.
And he described black churches as not only sanctuaries, but centres of activism in the struggle for freedom and equality.
“That’s what the black church means – our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.
“There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes.
“We do not know whether the killer of Rev Pinckney knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs, and arsons, and shots fired at these churches; not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorise and oppress,” Obama said.
“It was an act that he imagined would incite fear, and incrimination, violence and suspicion. An act he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.”
And in unflinching terms he also addressed the Confederate flag, frankly rejecting the arguments of those who would defend it
“For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred into many of our citizens.
“It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.
“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.
“Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valour of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.
“The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.
“It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”
And he took on America’s failure to address its relationship with guns.
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
“Sporadically, our eyes are open when eight [nine] of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theatre, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day the countless more whose lives are forever changed, the survivors crippled, the children traumatised and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happening to some other place.”
This was not a eulogy a white president could have given. Earlier in his presidency not even Obama himself could have made an address like this.
It was the speech of a man no longer facing election, one surer of his place in history, but also one deeply angered and saddened by the racism and violence he has so been called upon to address.
And it was the speech of a man aware that while his office normally demands that he speaks as President of the United States, it was on this occasion right for him to do so as the first African American president of the United States.
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