Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Speaking at the University of Memphis on Friday night, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. said of his relationship with President Barack Obama, "I was supporting him when y'all couldn't even pronounce his name."
By Zack McMillin
The Memphis Commercial Appeal
Saturday, April 4, 2009
The group of four women at the very front of the line to get seats for Rev. Jeremiah Wright's speech at the University of Memphis on Friday all agreed on one matter -- they just wanted to hear what President Barack Obama's former pastor had to say.
For one, Mary Dodson of Millington, there was a more particular motivation: "I am hoping he can make amends," Dodson said, for what she believed he had done to "sabotage" Obama's presidential candidacy in the spring of 2008.
What Wright gave Dodson and about 800 others at the school's Rose Theatre on Friday night was more complicated and nuanced -- and steeped in a history centuries older than last year's campaign.
There were no stated apologies or regrets, but in his 90-minute appearance, part of this weekend's "The Obama Phenomenon" conference by the school's Hooks Institute, Wright did seek to provide understanding and his own interpretation of the role his relationship with Obama played in the campaign.
He said even Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder could see that what he called the mainstream media had pulled snippets of his sermons out of context to stir racial animosity and fear.
A third-generation pastor and military veteran who earned two degrees in English and two in divinity, Wright delivered a scholarly speech laced occasionally with very personal observations.
"What I do has nothing to do with Obama," said Wright, 67, for nearly four decades the pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ before retiring last year. "I was preaching like I preach before Obama was born. I was ordained as pastor when Obama was 5. I preached the same way out of the same context ... and then Fox News discovered me."
The question-and-answer period that followed the speech was heavy with questions about Obama, who attended Trinity for nearly two decades, was married by Wright and had both of his daughters baptized by him.
Someone asked if he still supported Obama, who publicly broke with Wright after a question-and-answer session the pastor gave last April that many media outlets characterized as controversial.
"I was supporting him when y'all couldn't even pronounce his name," Wright said, drawing howls of laughter from what was a very supportive and engaged audience. "He had me traveling ... all across the state of South Carolina getting people to understand who he was as a person, who he was as a Christian, who he was as a husband and a father. I have always supported him."
He did say, "I don't disown my children when they make a mistake, and I didn't disown him when he made a mistake."
Wright expounded upon how he was asked by his congregation in 1972 to lead them according to their motto, "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian." But he castigated Northern black churches that rejected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his social gospel.
He also insisted the audience remember the many white preachers who "lost their pulpits" for supporting the civil rights movement, and invoked King's legacy several times on the eve of the 41st anniversary of King's assassination in Memphis.
"It's not just black," Wright said. "Black Christians, white Christians, Hispanic Christians, Asian Christians, all Christians must do something to wake up, in terms of, these problems are not all going to go away just because you got Barack in the White House."
And for those like Dodson who came primarily because of their loyalty to Obama, Wright closed with this: "All right, you cheered and had a great time and partied after his victory; now those people who worked hard to get him elected are going to have to work hard to help him bring about the change."
-- Zack McMillin: 901-529-2564
Rev. Jeremiah Wright To Be Paid With Private Funds, U Of M Says
School Isn't Providing $4,000 Speech Fee
By Zack McMillin
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The University of Memphis, responding to criticism of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's speaking appearance for an academic conference examining "The Obama Phenomenon," stressed Monday that the $4,000 honorarium going to Wright comes exclusively from private funds.
U of M spokesman Curt Guenther said the school had received numerous phone calls from people concerned about Wright, based on controversial comments he made as Obama's pastor at Trinity United Church in Chicago, but that most of them seemed focused on the issue of how his expenses were being paid.
Those funds come from the private donations given to the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, which is sponsoring the event.
"All expenses associated with his appearance are being covered by the Hooks Institute through private funds," the university said in a statement. "No tuition fees, taxpayer funds, or alumni donations are involved."
The role Wright played in the presidential campaign last year will be just one of many topics the conference will cover. Wright is speaking at 6 p.m. Friday at the university's Rose Theatre.
The conference runs all day Friday and Saturday and features speakers and scholars from across the country.
"As an institution of higher learning, the U of M is dedicated to examining, and proposing solutions to, every aspect of our society," said Hooks Institute director Daphene McFerren in an e-mail. "This event is consistent with the mission of great universities, which includes presenting diverse perspectives on many issues, including that of race."
The events, including Wright's speech, are free and open to the public. Seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more information, go to benhooks.memphis.edu/obamaconference.html.
-- Zack McMillin: 901-529-2564
Controversial Public Figure Rev. Jeremiah Wright Will Speak On Campus Today At The Obama Phenomenon Conference.
Rev. Wright to speak
By: Sara Patterson
The Daily Helmsman (The University Of Memphis)
AP PhotoThe Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., the former pastor of Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. speaks Sunday at the Detroit NAACP's 53rd annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.
President Barack Obama's controversial former pastor Jeremiah Wright will deliver the keynote address of the Obama Phenomenon conference in the Michael D. Rose Theatre at 6 p.m.
Sponsored by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, the conference begins at 9:30 a.m. with the presentation "Obama in the Media," a look at the president's role in the world of hip-hop. The conference will end at 5:15 p.m. tomorrow with Ronald Sullivan's speech titled, "Soul Brother No. 1: Is Obama Black Enough?"
Twelve speakers from several states and one from Canada will address various topics related to Obama's campaign.
Sullivan, chair of Obama's criminal justice policy group, helped plot strategy for Obama's campaign and was instrumental to his win, said Hooks Institute Director Daphene McFerren. His speech begins at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
Wright, pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama's church for more than 20 years, will likely be attended by many. Free and open to the public, seats will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The media latched onto Wright early last year, quoting video clips of Wright's sermons. Wright said the U.S. was the cause of AIDS in the world, defended Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and said the U.S. believes more in white superiority and black inferiority than it believed in God. Montages of these clips are available on Youtube.com.
Despite his fame, McFerren said she wasn't surprised Wright accepted her invitation letter in May of last year. He agreed to a $4,000 speaker fee, a price well under what McFerrin said a speaker of his status would normally receive.
"For someone of his caliber, it's a small sum," she said.
When Cornel West, famed author, philosopher, pastor and professor who campaigned for Obama, spoke on campus last semester, The Daily Helmsman reported he was paid $30,000 from the Student Events Allocation, a branch of the Student Activities Council.
Wright was paid from private funds generated by the endowment of the Hooks Institute, said McFerren. Student fees were not used to pay Wright, she clarified after University officials received several calls and e-mails from concerned parents and students.
"People who don't agree with Wright's philosophy don't want their money bringing him here," said Curt Guenther, director of Communications Services.
Senior paralegal studies major Christian Johnson said he thought about picketing the event.
"He (Wright) is a known racist, and during a week that we are supposed to be taking efforts to heal wounds of the past...The University decided to bring somebody that spits racism not only in public but from the pulpit," he said. "It's a poor decision of The University to invite him."
In response to the public outcry, McFerren prepared an e-mail statement, defending her selection.
"While you have concluded that Rev. Wright is a racist, there are many different perspectives on Rev. Wright by persons of many races," she wrote.
Obama's best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope, was named after one of Wright's sermons, and Wright is mentioned briefly in his autobiography.
"I can no more disown (Wright) than I can my white grandmother," Obama said in his speech about race on March 18, 2008, in Philadelphia.
However, Obama, in a speech April 29, 2008, publicly distanced himself. He said Wright was "not the man I met 20 years ago."
"I am outraged by the comments that were made. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church," said Obama. "They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs."
Political science department chair Robert Blanton said history will view Wright's role during the presidential campaign was "relatively minor," though he helped move the issue of race to the forefront of the campaign.
"Personally, I think that his statements were taken somewhat out of context, and it's hard to believe that out of decades of sermons, and all the work that he did in his community, that two minutes worth of Youtube videos fully define his worldview," Blanton wrote in an e-mail. "Moreover, he's hardly the first person to say unorthodox things behind the pulpit."
Senior communications major Georgette Kearney said she wasn't planning on attending the speech but questioned The University's judgment in inviting Wright during "Why Do You Hate Me" Week.
"It's hypocritical of The University to promote diversity but invite someone like that," she said.
Communications Chair Michael Leff said inviting Wright enforced the principals of free speech.
"I don't agree with a lot of what he said, but it's controversial, and it's of interest," he said.
McFerren said everyone attending the speech will be handed an index card to write questions on. The uncensored questions will be sorted and handed to Wright at the end of speech for him to answer.
"People say 'Memphis is weak' and ask 'Why raise these issues?'," McFerren said. "My response is: Memphis should be the leader on handling issues of race and education, because of the history of Memphis - the complete history - some negative, some positive. Why not be the leader and show we can take on tough issues in a civil way, in a responsible way, and show we're not fearful of hearing what people have to say?"
© Copyright 2009 Daily Helmsman
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