Obama addresses Dr. King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church

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Speech excerpts as prepared for delivery

THE GREAT NEED OF THE HOUR

The Scripture tells us that when Joshua and the Israelites arrived at the gates of Jericho, they could not enter. The walls of the city were too steep for any one person to climb; too strong to be taken down with brute force. And so they sat for days, unable to pass on through.

But God had a plan for his people. He told them to stand together and march together around the city, and on the seventh day he told them that when they heard the sound of the ram’s horn, they should speak with one voice. And at the chosen hour, when the horn sounded and a chorus of voices cried out together, the mighty walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

There are many lessons to take from this passage, just as there are many lessons to take from this day, just as there are many memories that fill the space of this church. As I was thinking about which ones we need to remember at this hour, my mind went back to the very beginning of the modern Civil Rights Era.

Because before Memphis and the mountaintop; before the bridge in Selma and the march on Washington; before Birmingham and the beatings; the fire hoses and the loss of those four little girls; before there was King the icon and his magnificent dream, there was King the young preacher and a people who found themselves suffering under the yoke of oppression.

And on the eve of the bus boycotts in Montgomery, at a time when many were still doubtful about the possibilities of change, a time when those in the black community mistrusted themselves, and at times mistrusted each other, King inspired with words not of anger, but of an urgency that still speaks to us today:

“Unity is the great need of the hour” is what King said. Unity is how we shall overcome.

What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Unity is the great need of the hour – the great need of this hour. Not because it sounds pleasant or because it makes us feel good, but because it’s the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exists in this country.

I’m not talking about a budget deficit. I’m not talking about a trade deficit. I’m not talking about a deficit of good ideas or new plans.

I’m talking about a moral deficit. I’m talking about an empathy deficit. I’m taking about an inability to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we are our brother’s keeper; we are our sister’s keeper; that, in the words of Dr. King, we are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.

We have an empathy deficit when we’re still sending our children down corridors of shame – schools in the forgotten corners of America where the color of your skin still affects the content of your education.

We have a deficit when CEOs are making more in ten minutes than some workers make in ten months; when families lose their homes so that lenders make a profit; when mothers can’t afford a doctor when their children get sick.

We have a deficit in this country when there is Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others; when our children see nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree today, in the present, in the twenty-first century.

……But of course, true unity cannot be so easily won. It starts with a change in attitudes – a broadening of our minds, and a broadening of our hearts.

Unfortunately, all too often when we talk about unity in this country, we’ve come to believe that it can be purchased on the cheap. We’ve come to believe that racial reconciliation can come easily – that it’s just a matter of a few ignorant people trapped in the prejudices of the past, and that if the demagogues and those who exploit our racial divisions will simply go away, then all our problems would be solved.

All too often, we seek to ignore the profound institutional barriers that stand in the way of ensuring opportunity for all children, or decent jobs for all people, or health care for those who are sick. We long for unity, but are unwilling to pay the price.

…..For most of this country’s history, we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system, and in our criminal justice system.

And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community.

We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.

So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty; injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.

Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.

10 thoughts on “Obama addresses Dr. King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church

  1. Anon 1

    Source: Jamaicaobserver.com

    Why vote for Obama?

    Rev Mervin Stoddart
    Monday, January 21, 2008

    The United States of America has seen many credible black people run for president over the years but in the 2007-2008 campaign, especially after his victory in the Iowa state caucus, Barack Obama has managed to generate near fanatical following in the USA and worldwide. The most obvious question to be asked is why. Prior to Obama, the black presidential candidate who generated the greatest following was the Rev Jesse Jackson, and comparing the candidacies of both black men should provide some answers for the supposed Obama-rama now underway.

    Jumping out at readers immediately should be the fact that Jackson had much more leadership experience and down-in-the-trenches political achievements than Obama, especially in the civil rights movement. Three conclusions may be drawn from this comparison to Obama, whose “few years as senator” completes the experience section of his political resume. First, the Obama frenzy is typically American, that is, more froth and appearances than solid foundations. America, with its Machiavellian movers and shakers, is one big Hollywood and so the Oprah factor in the Obama campaign might give it more fizz than the Jackson attempt. Second, experience or not, another black person running for the US presidency in a century when a black president is decades overdue is bound to draw strong following. Thus, Obama’s showing owes much to Jackson’s record and work in more ways than one. Ergo, Obama is the beneficiary of the years of fighting for black rights in the USA by Jackson, Marcus Garvey, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, and hundreds of others, and so now the rise of Obama is being helped along by the zeitgeist. Third, despite being inexperienced, Barack Obama has one thing that Jesse Jackson lacked, namely, a white parent, which in racist America is half the qualifications needed to be president. But I believe that solid leadership experience is important, and if America is to get back on track after eight years of disaster under George Bush and Dick Cheney, and if the welfare of blacks is to be advanced, then Hillary Clinton is the only logical choice for US president this time around. The economic success and black advancements of the Bill Clinton presidency speak for themselves; and Hillary’s leadership in the White House then was commendable.

    Black Americans would be foolish to look for their next president among the Republicans in that grand old racist party with its right-wing fundamentalist Christian bigots. This hints at another potential reason for the Obama frenzy, namely, the possible Republican conspiracy to register as Democrats, vote for Obama in the season of primaries, and set him up for the downfall in the real elections, thus socking it to Hillary, who, among the Democrats, has the best chance of being elected president against any and all of the Republicans now running.

    Furthermore, in this era of stealing elections in the USA, demonstrated in Florida and Ohio by Bush in 2000 and 2004, it would be much easier to get the US Supreme Court to decide in favour of a white Republican male than for a black male Democrat, by using that tried and proved trick of 2000.
    But even if Obama did slip through and become president with a majority popular vote, it would be easier to persuade the Electoral College to deny that black man the presidency, than to deny a white woman. And even if by luck or design Obama were to be sworn in as US president, it is certain that those haters, who murdered people like Dr King, John F Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, would find it easier to bump off black Obama than to kill white Hillary. Chances are, if nominated, Obama might have to choose a white male for his vice president; and in the event of his death the American presidency would be “back to normal”. Black Barack is therefore the Republicans’ and many of white America’s ideal candidate to win the Democratic primary, and if I should vote for him I could technically be voting Republican – a thought as repulsive as endorsing Adolph Hitler. Obama is evidently a sincere man but he might be unaware of how much he is being manipulated by the movers and shakers in the USA, mother of all racist nations.
    So what if the real powers behind the US presidency should engineer the election and ascendancy of black Obama? It might be so that they could stage the biggest terrorist attack on his watch to continue their Orwellian drama initiated on 9/11. Could they this time possibly frame Iran for the next big one, thus accomplishing through President Obama what they might not get to do under Bush, that is, murder some more politically strong Arab/Muslims and steal more oil by invading Iran? What is more dramatic than a man with a Muslim background leading the stealth crusade against Muslims begun under George Bush the First?

    Individual people of colour, sincere white folk who abhor racism, and predominantly black nations of the world should not get caught up in the Obama frenzy being staged by the shallow, tabloid-oriented, deceitful American media. They should analyse the issues and delve behind the media frenzy to evaluate the prospects for change in America under an Obama presidency versus a Hillary Clinton administration. Granted, now that Republicans have mastered the art of rigging presidential elections, it might be a moot point whether Obama or Clinton wins the primary.
    Nevertheless, despite her whiteness and her despicable pro-Iraq war votes, Hillary Clinton, compared to Obama, is a stronger, more experienced leader with superior ideas for rescuing America and advancing human rights, including black welfare. With so much at stake for the USA and the world, why should anyone, especially blacks, vote for Obama?

    Rev Dr Mervin Stoddart is a freelance writer out of Florida.

    -INMerv@hotmail.com.

  2. “For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.”

    As far as I know, both Obama and Clinton support NAFTA and CAFTA, which means a lot less opportunity and a lot more immigrants.

  3. So what if the real powers behind the US presidency should engineer the election and ascendancy of black Obama? It might be so that they could stage the biggest terrorist attack on his watch to continue their Orwellian drama initiated on 9/11. Could they this time possibly frame Iran for the next big one, thus accomplishing through President Obama what they might not get to do under Bush, that is, murder some more politically strong Arab/Muslims and steal more oil by invading Iran? What is more dramatic than a man with a Muslim background leading the stealth crusade against Muslims begun under George Bush the First?

    Sigh.

    Uncle Ruckus, is that you?

  4. Cliff

    “Individual people of colour, sincere white folk who abhor racism, and predominantly black nations of the world should not get caught up in the Obama frenzy being staged by the shallow, tabloid-oriented, deceitful American media.”

    I’m trying Sir, I’m trying.

    “Because if Dr. King could love his jailor; if he could call on the faithful who once sat where you do to forgive those who set dogs and fire hoses upon them, then surely we can look past what divides us in our time, and bind up our wounds, and erase the empathy deficit that exists in our hearts.”

    He’s speaking to black people, and specifically to the division within black people.

    Yes Sir, Dr. King, Yes Sir Barack Obama, I hear you, we’re busy working on binding up our wounds, and erasing the empathy deficit within our hearts.

    No false hopes.

    “We cannot bring about change, unless we’re unified.”

    Okay, working on that.

  5. Chesapeake

    Speaking of Dr. King, I’d like to share this: “… I am disturbed by how little attention the topic of economic justice has received during this campaign…. I want to challenge all candidates to follow your lead, and speak up loudly and forcefully on the issue of economic justice in America.

    “From our conversation yesterday, I know this is personal for you. I know you know what it means to come from nothing. I know you know what it means to get the opportunities you need to build a better life. And, I know you know that injustice is alive and well in America, because millions of people will never get the same opportunities you had.

    “I believe that now, more than ever, we need a leader who wakes up every morning with the knowledge of that injustice in the forefront of their minds, and who knows that when we commit ourselves to a cause as a nation, we can make major strides in our own lifetimes….”

    Excerpt from a letter dated January 20, 2008, from Martin Luther King, III, to John Edwards following up on their meeting the day before at the King Center. Read the full letter (downloadable) at http://www/johnedwards.com/news/20080121-mlk-iii-letter.pdf.

    It’s not an formal endorsement, but King’s on point! Looking forward to Bellafonte’s and Glover’s increased roles before the 5th!

    Stay tuned! It ain’t over!

  6. john in california

    As a DK supporter, I’m still skeptical to some degree about all of the top three, but I think Obama made a great point in the last debate about ‘”who am I running against, Hill or Bill?”. I think the spouses in this campaign have done more to hurt than help their candidate, Michele by misconstruing Billyboy’s comments, Elizabeth Kucinich by saying Ron Paul would be a great running mate, Elizabeth Edwards by making her husband suffer in comparison (wouldn’t you really rather vote for her?), but worst of all, Bill Clinton by putting himself front and center in a campaign supposedly run by his wife. This guy is such an egoist. If he really wanted to hepl hillary, he would have :
    1. given her a divorce
    2. taken responsibility for mistakes like Hillary-Care and NAFTA
    3. then retired with some bimbo to Bimini never to be heard from again
    Instead this supposed master politician is interjecting himself in such a way that hillary must run on (and from) both of their records. Dumb-de- dumb-dumb… after all this time trying to project an image of strength, having Billyboy come to the rescue makes hillary look lame. As little as dems like to see our candidates squabble, Obama’s “just-the-facts-ma’m” defense probably won the day.
    Also, I normally give zero credibility to any politician’s endorsements, but Kareem is different. Maybe because we are age contemporaries, maybe because he was one of my father’s favorites when he played for my father’s alma mater, maybe because he has always been his own man, maybe because for those many years he was pushed away by big-money sports, he continued to live a creative, learning life, his support of Obama actually means something to me and, I think to others like me, white guys of a certain age who more than anything want a president who just quit bullshitting America. Although I don’t think Obama’s solution to Health Insurance is adequate, nor his position on Iraq withdrawal aggressive enough, I do believe he will tell the truth about the state of both and from that point he and congress may be persuaded to do what is necessary (Single Payer and Get-totally-out-now!) . So I think with every debate, he is making his case a little clearer, a little better, that he will be more able to get something done about our very big problems.

  7. Blue Nile

    What john in california said– word to all that.
    Either Hillary is an idiot to let Bill go on this humiliating public ego-trip and embarrass both of them, not to mention the otherwise distinguished position of a US ex-president, or she’s utterly incapable of running a campaign on her own and has to go desperately begging to Bill to do the work for her. Either way, and on top of the race-baiting horsecrap– let alone the vote suppression in Nevada, New Hampshire and Iowa– and it’s plain that she will never be ready for prime time. When combined with Bill, the Clintons are a runaway bull in a china shop, except the china shop is our whole damn country. Could these two f***tards possibly do more damage to the nation than they already have?

    It’s hard anymore to keep track of the number of dumbass things Bill has done in his latest session of self-immolating public exhibitionism, including even dozing off during a sermon by MLK III in Harlem!

    http://tinyurl.com/2qe5em

    There’s been some talk about some loser from the Clinton team getting busted in South Carolina for trying to hack one of the electronic voting machines they have there. (Mostly electronic, some paper, generally a jumble of voting systems that needs some major improvement.)

    Either way, the KKKlinton team trying to shut down the caucus stations in Las Vegas was lamer than lame, and then pulling crap like giving wrong directions out to Obama voters, on top of shutting the caucus doors early, on top of the crap they were pulling in New Hampshire which itself came on top of the bullshit the Clintons pulled in Iowa turning college students away, and you get a pattern from the Clintons of systematic DISENFRANCHISEMENT of Blacks and anyone else with the audacity to realize the washed-up, narcissistic jerk-offs that the Clintons are and vote for somebody else.

    The KKKlintons have burned so many damn bridges, they’ve basically made an island for themselves. Among almost all my friends, Black or White or otherwise, almost none of them would ever vote for Hillary if nominated. They’d stay home and do some window repair, vote for Cynthia McKinney or whoever else is on the Green ticket, even in some cases vote for John McCain.

    But the Clintons have truly done something historic– ruptured the coalition that the Democrats have assembled since the 1920’s, pushing African-Americans away.

    Even more galling is the way they’ve doing it– pitting others against us, hurling race-baiting bullshit against Obama and then, even when Obama is cool as a cucumber to rise above the racial issue and stay smart and on message, they nonetheless go whining like little losers about his “using the race card.”

    Translation, per the KKKlintons, as promulgated from the dais at the KKKlinton plantation to all us Field Negroes: If you’re Black {or Latino), you are automatically playing the race card, and your massas, the KKKlintons, will ensure you know it.

    One of my friends in Iowa said the Clinton staffers are not only poorly-behaved, but downright arrogant and patronizing especially to African-Americans. In fact to the Clintons, we are cockroaches. Well, I say that we cockroaches are hungry, and that we make a nice meal for ourselves out of the nice, pink and white flesh of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. These losers are almost begging for more and more public humiliation, and we’re more than happy to oblige.

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