Obama speech aims to end race row with bold plea for harmony

In a breathtaking speech, delivered before a backdrop of American flags, Barack Obama attempted yesterday to lance the boil of the ugly racial row that threatens to destroy his campaign for the presidency.

Delivering what one commentator described as the most personal and extensive discussion of the legacy of slavery made by any major American politician in memory, he said it was time for Americans to "move beyond some of our old racial wounds".

Commentators were quick to describe the unconventional speech, which Obama finished writing at 3am yesterday, as the most audacious and politically risky gambit of his career.

Saying he was "married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters," he implicitly rebuked those who question his wife Michelle's patriotism, after she recently said "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country".

Mr Obama said: "I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live," he said, "I will never forget that in no other country on earth is my story even possible."

Speaking near the spot where the US Declaration of Independence was written in the spring of 1787, Mr Obama took his theme from that iconic document, saying he wanted to transform the divisiveness of the race row into a quest for "a more perfect union".

In so doing, he unambiguously condemned the racially incendiary remarks of his Chicago pastor, the Rev Jeremiah Wright, saying they were "not only wrong, but divisive; divisive at a time when we need unity".

Snippets of some sermons are being endlessly looped on American television and on YouTube, showing Mr Wright describing the US as a racist country with a murderous foreign policy and a corrupt government.

The two most damaging video clips show Mr Wright claiming that the US brought the 9/11 attacks on itself and that blacks should sing "God Damn" not "God Bless America".

Mr Obama, frequently interrupted by applause, provided his most complete explanation of his long association with Mr Wright, the pastor who married him and baptised his children, despite his fiery rhetoric. "Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes.

"Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed."

But even as he condemned the remarks of his friend and spiritual adviser, the Illinois senator delivered some home truths about race relations in America.

Throughout the election Mr Obama has tried to avoid embroiling his campaign in America's fractious racial debate, despite the efforts of his opponents to do so. In South Carolina at the beginning of the year, Bill Clinton was widely criticised for casting Obama as no more than a black candidate, popular in a state with a heavily black electorate but not a serious contender for the presidency.

And, earlier this month, Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Vice-Presidential nominee, was forced to leave Clinton's finance committee after saying that Obama was front-runner because as a black man he was enjoying political favouritism.

But yesterday – facing the Wright furore deemed by some advisers to be the greatest challenge of his candidacy for the presidency – Mr Obama tackled the issue of racial politics head on, an approach normally guaranteed to clear a room or destroy a budding political career.

"I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork," he said, adding that "race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now." As the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, Mr Obama has personally juggled racial divisions and seen first-hand that they can be overcome. "I can no more disown him [Wright] than I can disown my white grandmother ... a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

Speaking of America's "racial stalemate", he said: "I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds," he said. He talked about the anger among African-Africans that could be heard at the barbers or the beauty parlour, a hangover from the days of segregation. But he was also swift to acknowledge what he called "the resentments of white Americans" that should not be dismissed as misguided or racist.

The complexities of race were something the United States had not yet made perfect, Mr Obama said. "And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American."

He expressed exasperation with the media for scouring every exit poll during the tight Democratic race for signs of racial polarisation when his campaign message of unity had led to commanding victories in overwhelmingly white states. The election had recently taken on, what he said was "a particularly divisive turn", which was a political risk to his campaign ahead of the Pennsylvania primary on 22 April where white votes will play a key role.

"We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathise with his most offensive words," he said. "We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

"That is one option," Mr Obama said. "Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time'."

For rolling comment on the US election visit: independent.co.uk/campaign08

Voices
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond delivers his speech at the Scottish National Party (SNP) Spring Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland April 12, 2014.
voices
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
News
Meet Mr Poo: The lumpy, brown anthropomorphised faeces that is the face of Unicef's latest public health campaign in India.
news
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
News
weird newsMan live-photographs cracking of mysterious locked box on Reddit
News
weird news
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
filmAs 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star James Dean perfected his moody act
News
Obesity surgery in rats has been found to change the way the body processes alcohol
news
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
artThe Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
Life & Style
US Airways has been at the centre of a Twitter storm after it responded to customer complaints with a graphic sexual image
techUS Airways takes an interesting approach to customer service
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher - September 2014

£100 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for a Teacher of...

English Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: English Teacher RequiredImm...

KS2 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day + tax deductable expenses: Randstad Education Leicester: KS...

B2B Bids and Tenders Pricing Specialist

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?