January 20th, 2008
01:45 PM ET
15 years ago

Obama urges unity from MLK's pulpit

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/01/20/art.obamachurch.ap.jpg caption="Obama spoke at King’s old church a day before the holiday celebrating his birth."]ATLANTA (CNN) - After a bitter few weeks on the trail, Barack Obama spent Sunday morning talking unity at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once presided.

He recalled the legacy of discrimination against African-Americans - but challenged the audience at the historic black church to take a look at a few lingering prejudices among some within the community itself.

"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," he said, citing homophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Obama told the congregation Sunday morning that if King could forgive his jailers, "surely we can look past what divides us in our time."

Obama's visit to the city coincided with his Sunday endorsement by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which cited his "appeal across many of the lines that have divided America, adding that "both Clinton and Obama would make very good presidents, [but] Obama is the person; this is his time."

Georgia voters head to the polls February 5.

In New York City, Hillary Clinton spent the morning at another historic black church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where she picked up the endorsement of its pastor, the Rev. Calvin Butts.

Obama's chief rival for the Democratic nomination also sounded a conciliatory note Sunday. "I have the highest regard and admiration for my friend and colleague Sen. Barack Obama. I am honored to be running with him," she said. "I hope that this election remains focused on the big challenges that confront us."

Related video: Watch Sen. Obama at the Ebenezer Baptist Church

Related video: Watch Sen. Clinton on Dr. King's legacy

Related video: Watch John Edwards on Dr. King's legacy

–CNN's Chris Welch contributed to this report
soundoff (198 Responses)
  1. Alice Newman Center Harbor NH

    There was an interesting article about how many white people have worked for black civil rights: some of them paying the ultimate price.

    The facts must be faced that blacks, alone, could not accomplish all that needed or needs to be done. If Obama wants to win, he will need white voters too...

    When Senator Clinton pointed out the MLK had the vision and LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, she was stating a fact.

    The only people playing the "race card" are the media ... they have to have a story – even if they have to manufacture a crisis where none exists ...

    Interesting perspective on Mitt: "The conservatives who hyperventilated about the Democrats’ explosion of identity politics seemed to forget that Mr. Romney also dragged Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into this campaign — claiming that he “saw” his father, a civil-rights minded governor of Michigan, march with King in the 1960s. The point of Mitt Romney’s invocation of the race card was to inoculate himself against legitimate charges of racial insensitivity; he had never spoken out about his own church’s discrimination against blacks, which didn’t end until 1978. Instead, the tactic ended up backfiring. Late last month The Boston Phoenix exposed this touching anecdote as a fraud. George Romney and King never marched together."

    January 20, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  2. Chris from Houston

    Oh. My god. I watch CNN everyday and all I see is Hilliary or Bill and sometimes Edwards. Where is your coverage of Obama. I see nothing. Is the media so slanted in its coverage. I can watch all day on an off day and never see anything about Obama unless it is in reference to something negative. Where is the fair reporting in that. CNN just lost my support. Obama is the answer to our dysfunctional polital system. 4 year of Bush Sr., 8 yrs of Clinton, 8 yrs of Bush Jr. now more Clinton. What the hell. Two families running the US for Twenty years.

    January 20, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  3. Greg OH

    It is a great speech, everyone should read or hear it. Best speech I have heard/ read in a long time.

    January 20, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  4. Jabari Woods

    Speaking in Harlem today HRC claimed she was "transformed" by a sermon delivered by MLK in Chicago in 1963. But she campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater was one on the six Republicans who crossed party lines to stand with southern politicians in opposition to LBJs 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    Something is very fishy about her narrative. Almost like her claim to have been named after Sir Edmund Hillary when she was born in 1957 and Sir Edmund climbed Everest in the early 1960s.

    January 20, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  5. Peter

    How long did it take CNN to post this.
    What a speech. What a moment we have.

    January 20, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  6. Frank

    This is truely unbelievable! How superficial can people be?!!! Why is this guy now playing the "race card"? African Americans should once and for all understand and recognize that playing the race card is not going to benefit them in the long run! How long can they survive by demanding special treatment because of their race; how long can they get ahead by demanding affirmative action; how long can they ask to be treated as second class citizens! This will all back fire on them, espeically at a time that they are seen by the non African Americans as equal in every right, and yet, they don't want to be equals!!! This is truely beyond any rationale! Even if Obama is qualified, he will NEVER become president in this country until African Americans agree to be treated equally and stop using the race card!!!

    January 20, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. David Stanton

    Obama '08!

    January 20, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  8. Anakenker@comcast.net

    Hillary and Obama both pledged to stop playing the "race card" if in deed they were playing it. But just as was expected, while Obama continues to speak about unity across party, economic, and all other lines, Hillary continues to play the "race card". Today she had a minister endorse her and in the process had him out what appeared to be a racist African American woman in his congregation who felt that he should not endorse a white woman over a black man. Who is she fighting? She certainly cannot implicate Obama's camp in this story. This woman was from a church where Hillary spoke. Obama was no where around at that time. I am sure Obama has encountered racist Caucasians during his campaign as well, but he has not ran to the media with it. I wonder how this spin will go.

    January 20, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |

    Frank: Did you even read the article...he states the exact opposite: that race is only ONE of the divides...criticize but at least be accurate....

    January 20, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  10. Keith L.


    Keep issues of race on the front burner where they belong. We still have deep problems in this country that some want to turn a blind eye to.

    Let's see what happens during Monday's debate when race will be front and center.

    Keep up the good work. Problems of race are America's problems.

    January 20, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  11. Nathan Taylor

    Dear CNN, John King, and political team,

    Why is this story buried on the web and not getting TV time? I had to go to CSPAN to see, even to KNOW, about the historic event of – perhaps – our first black president speaking in the Sunday service of Ebenezer Baptist Church on the weekend of MLK,Jr. Day. Maybe I've missed the coverage, but all I've seen on CNN is Hillary Clinton getting endorsed by Calvin Butts in NYC, with no mention of the Obama event today (including the impressive message he delivered as a layperson). This was a very noteworthy event and I'm saddened that CNN appears to be ignoring it. If you have shown it and I've missed it, it would have made sense to run it alongside the Hillary piece. Every voter choosing between Clinton and Obama needs to know about HIS particular church experience/endorsement, as well as hers today. If you've ignored the story completely, that just really disenchants me as a viewer. By the way, Obama's sermon was remarkable - you'd do the national conversation well to run some of it rather than rerunning the same Fred Thomspon clip to death. There's internecine party squabbling and head scratching to cover...and then there's history.

    Thanks - Nathan Taylor, Richmond, VA

    January 20, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  12. Go All The Way

    Obama should unite alright, If he does not win he should unite with the country and run as an independent.
    America does not care about your party or color.


    January 20, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  13. Chris (Portland, Oregon)


    As any speech writer/speaker will attest to......you need to KNOW your audience. Why wouldn't Obama leverage his "blackness" – don't ALL politicians speak to their constituents in a similar fashion? (ie. bible thumping Huckabee to his "flock" of followers)

    Personally, I'm glad SOMEBODY decided to play the "race card" in history...things are not as equal as you might want to believe for the minorities in this country. If I was a "bettin' man", I'm thinking you are as white as white can be.

    Obama speaks continually of his desire to unite and NOT divide....and rightly so; this country is as divided as it has ever been. One need not look very far as evidence of this divisive mindset is found in your ignorant e-mail.

    January 20, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  14. jojo

    I am watching "Ballot Bowl"all day trying to get a glimpse of this fantastic speech. All you keep showing is Fall Asleep Fred and Overly Earnest Edwards. Cmon CNN this is historical!!! Get with the program, this is turning into Ballet Bowl

    January 20, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  15. Reggie

    I was not going to respond to the post but after reading what Frank just wrote, I had to. The media plays a huge role in the "race issue." I being an African American is sick of all the media acting shock about the race issue. The race issue was not brought into this race when Senator Clinton made her remarks, it was brought into this race when Senator Obama agreed to run for President. Many Americans sat at home and asked "Is this guy for real? Can an African American win the Presidency?" We don't like to talk race, there will always be an undertone when we attempt to do something. Last year in the Superbowl there were two African American head coaches playing for the championship. Instead of the media talking about the respective teams and how they got there, the media was more facinated with the fact that an African American Head Coach would finally win the Superbowl. We are not the ones playing the race card, and truly I am sick and tired of having to defend it also. We just want to be treated equally. Is that so hard to ask?

    January 20, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  16. Diane

    Chris in Houston, I totally agree, I keep seeing all of the other candidate's being able to answer questions on CNN, Morning Joe, and all of the other news networks, but I NEVER see Obama get to answer to his comments on Reagan, and everyone knows what he said is true. Reagan did send the country in a direction, did they ever hear Obama say that he liked that direction, I am sure he didn't yet that was edited out. I saw Obama handle some Pro-Life protesters that were able to make their way into one of his events in New Hampshire and the way that he handled them was excellent and it was a spur of the moment decision that he had to make. He brought calm and when his supporters started booing them, he stopped them and told the audience to respect the folks that took the time to organize and do what they did. He told the protestors that he would be glad to meet with them when his presentation was over. I never saw a bit of this on the news and I felt it was extremely relevant. They interviews an undecided woman before the event and she said that that moment crystalized for her that he is the man America needs. Please give equal air time to Obama so that he has a chance to answer to attacks on him. He is definitely not playing the race card – the media and Hillary are. Again, people are not playing his comments about this issue.

    January 20, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  17. Tim

    How can Obama talk about unity when all he does is bring division like he did with the MLK Jr. issue last week. He will do and say anything to win. What will he do for America? We need a more honest person for president and that person would be Hillary Clinton.

    January 20, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  18. AJ, IL

    Alice Newman of Center Harbor NH....Correct me if I'm wrong but are you are Hillary Clinton supporter? I can understand Hillary's comments after the fact that she has had time to elaborate on them, but her comments were ill-advised and timed.

    Hillary Rodham was a Republican and supporter of Barry Goldwater for President in 1964. Goldwater was opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964! So what does that tell you about Hillary back during the civil rights act era. She has since changed her tune and direction, but lets forgive her, but not forget!

    Research it for yourself.

    OBAMA in '08!

    January 20, 2008 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  19. Tom Davie

    Obama needs the black vote. He didnt want to have to start playing the 'black solidarity card' but he has to at this stage. He NEEDS a win in south carolina to even be a credible candidate .

    Its his best move.

    Obama does best when he can give speeches. He is charismatic. We all know you cant be in 22 states at the same time to be charismatic. You cant put out commericals in 22 states. Hillary's name recoginition is HUGE and she will win that war if Obama isnt there to give speeches.

    He will get less votes in states where he cant campaign and be seen on a personal level. This is why losing Nevada and the latino vote is going to be the crushing blow.

    Many voters need to believe Obama can beat Clinton outside of the african american vote. He did so in Iowa, but did NOT in New hampshire.

    If HIllary should get within even 5 or so points of South Carolina in the primary, many who are still on the fence arent going to believe Obama can really beat her on Super tuesday.


    January 20, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  20. Henry

    Thank Obama for making me shine. I am kenyan American supporting you all the way. Hope you win.

    January 20, 2008 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  21. Julie

    I was one of the lucky folks to get in from the cold today to participate in the service and hear Senator Obama speak. I was completely moved and impressed with his candor. I can't wait until I can refer to him as President Obama.

    January 20, 2008 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  22. Henry

    Kenyans are learning from Dr. King too and I hope there will be equality in kenyan presidency.

    January 20, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  23. Marco

    I have a good feeling about SC. Please, people, can't you see the integrity that Obama carries with him vs. Hillary? Hillary is as corrupt as it gets. Edwards supporters. I'm sorry...he's a good man, but he won't win. Your votes are cutting into Obama's, which could allow her to win. Please, do the right thing.

    By the way, these are really hip Obama shirts! Wear your vote! Inspire others.

    January 20, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  24. George

    I watched Obama and what a speech. It wasn't political and he was collective as ever. I am so glad to see how Sen. Obama can know when where and what to say at different times. Thank you senator for allowing us to reflect in you that the hopes of Dr. King would become fruitful some day.

    January 20, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  25. Annie

    Chris from Houston....since Bush sr. was VP, it's actually going to be almost 30 years of having the same two families in the executive branch! And with Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton being such good friends these days, why aren't more people feeling uncomfortable with the danger posed to our great democracy by suich blatant consolidation of political power.

    January 20, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
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