Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sought to ease racial tensions Tuesday, in a speech aimed at unifying his party and addressing racially charged comments made by his long-time pastor.
For more on the issue of Race in America, watch Charles Fox, Jr., divinity professor at Regent University, following David Brody's report.
Obama, the first black U.S. presidential candidate in the lead for the party's nomination, has been calling on Democrats to look past racial divisions and to guard against the rhetoric that he says has been coming from both campaigns.
"But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now," Obama 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. "And that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."
Rejecting Wright's Statements
In the speech, he also distanced himself from statements made by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America," Obama said.
"Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, Divisive at a time when we need unity," he said. "Racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems. problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all."
Wright had been Obama's pastor for nearly two decades until recently retiring. He had officiated at Obama's wedding and baptized his two daughters. Among Wright's inflammatory comments were that blacks continue to be mistreated by whites and a suggestion that U.S. "terrorism" helped bring on the Sept. 11 attacks.
"The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect," Obama said.
He explained that Wright's comments reflect his past experience, when blacks had few opportunities in this country, much less the chance to run for President.
"The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country," Obama said.
"But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change," he said. "That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
During the speech, Obama did not offer any rejection of Wright. Instead, he explained that, given the long history he and his family have with his former pastor, he could never completely break those ties.
"As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me," he said. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother."
Jen Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman, said that Obama wanted to deliver the speech because "the issue of race has received an enormous amount of attention" over the past few weeks.
Wright's fiery comments and a recent statement by former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter and fundraiser, suggested he had gotten so far mainly because he was black.
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," Ferraro had said in an interview with a California newspaper. She has since resigned from Sen. Clinton's campaign. Clinton said she did not agree with her remarks.
Also, a top Obama foreign-policy advise was recently forced to step down after calling Clinton a "monster" in an interview with a Scottish newspaper.
"In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us," Obama said Tuesday. "Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well."
Sources: The Associated Press, CBN News