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. zoey

    Is CNN selectively approving comments? or is it just mine that is "unappropriated" (posted at 6:05 pm Jan 20th)? I followed CNN's comment policy and yet there is blatant sexism and racism in some of these other posts. Though I agree that we should discuss and be open to different ideas, I don't think a news organization needs to be giving a platform to bigotry. Exchanging ideas openly requires some measure of equality which all participants share (and extend to other participants), apparently CNN doesn't agree.
    PS. Dear Margarita, are you condemning Obama because he hasn't had to brave firehouses and dogs? Do you really want us to go that far backward? And he is putting his life on the line or haven't you noticed the security detail?

    January 21, 2008 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  2. Prison v. College!

    Why is it that if an African-American mentions something about race then they are accused of "playing the race card"!

    Here's a few race facts for you:

    – Between 1994 and 2002, the average time served by African Americans for a drug offense increased by 73%, compared to an increase of 28% for white drug offenders.

    – In 1994, African Americans served an average of 33.1 months for a drug offense; this grew to 57.2 months by 2002.

    – Time served for drug offenses for whites increased from 29.1 months in 1994 to 37.2 months in 2002.

    – African Americans now serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (57.2 months) as whites do for a violent offense (58.8 months).

    About 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group—by comparison, 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% of white men in that same age group were incarcerated.

    A report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago.

    Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college or the military!

    In 2000 there were 791,600 black males in prison OR on probation from prison and 603,032 enrolled in college.

    In 1980, there were 143,000 black males in prison R on probation from prison and 463,700 enrolled in college.

    On December 31, 2005, there were 2,193,798 people in U.S. prisons and jails. We [the USA] incarcerate a greater share of our population, 737 per 100,000 residents, than any other country on the planet.

    But when you break down the statistics you see that incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment:

    U.S. incarceration rates by race, June 30, 2006:

    Whites: 409 per 100,000
    Latinos: 1,038 per 100,000
    Blacks: 2,468 per 100,000

    There’s a lot of internal soul searching and education that will be required to reverse this trend.

    This it not playing the race card but facts that we must collectively address!

    I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.

    January 21, 2008 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  3. Anonymous

    Does Obama think the only way he can win is by invoking MLK's name.
    At times he even attempts to make his voice sound like Dr. Kings. What's that about?

    January 21, 2008 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  4. Anthony, Los Angeles, CA

    No doubt Obama is a good speaker with excellent rhetorical skills and the ability to inspire. Unfortunately as good as these qualitites are, they are not the only qualities required in a U.S. President. I have high hopes for Obama in 2016 and believe after 8 years of Clinton's VP he will have the knowledge and experience necessary to be president. I have nothing negative to say of Obama.

    However, the race card should be not be played by anyone in the party–black, white, hispanic, or other. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Clintons are racist because Hillary is now running against a black man. She is NOT being racist because she is treating him the way he is treating her and the way she would be treating any other strong opponent. If she is being racist every time she attacks him, then he is being sexist every time he attacks her. It makes no sense. I haven't heard John Edwards accuse Obama of being racist after their sometimes heated debate exchanges or vise versa–probably because neither are in the lead in National Polls. If Edwards were ahead, i'm sure he'd be 'racist' as well.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not mocking racism which I believe still exists in our society today. I'm mocking the idea that any three of these democratic candidates could/should/have been labeled racist for political gain by members of their own party albeit inadvertently.

    And no matter who finishes the race as the Democratic nominee I will happily cast my vote for that person over any other candidate in the general election as I suspected will many others who are now entangled with in-fighting.

    January 21, 2008 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  5. The Decider

    It's amazing to see how many people on here are completely IGNORANT to the facts of politics. Obviously you throw a name in front of them that they have seen for years and that is the person. Women are backing Hillary, is that a gender thing?? I believe so.. Blacks are backing for the most part Obama so does that make this a race thing. Everyone has a tendency to point a finger at who is the cause of the "mudslinging".. Kind of nice to see Obama fighting back. Edwards has become a joke (and I do have respect for him) but when it is time to get out - leave.

    You folks need to look at what the media is spreading. Many comments on here about CNN, Fox, and others for not reporting on the candidates or distorting speculations about candidates is absolutely pathetic.

    The respect I used to have for Bill Clinton was great but today he is no more or no less of a general surrogate for there campaign. Good cop/Bad cop what a joke!!

    If you want to see this nation go down in flames just jump on the same old/same old. No further explanation needed.

    Good luck in November..

    The Decider

    January 21, 2008 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  6. Ellie, OR

    Congratulations, Hillary. You have the wind at your back. Keep getting out your positive message for change. We are listening and we are voting. . .for YOU!!
    Hillary '08!!

    January 21, 2008 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  7. Reginald Manning

    Having recently viewed the platforms of both the democratic front-runners, I must confess, among the two (Hillary and Barack) Hillary is looking much more appealing. As a person (African-American) who hoped that during his lifetime the realization of Dr. Kings dream would finally be fullfilled, who's to say that the dream applied to race. We have here an unprecedented movement in our nations history, a woman and an African-American man, let's remember the dream and not the ignorant views that divided us.

    January 21, 2008 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  8. GaryO Virginia Beach

    Hey Prison vs. College:

    If Obama wins the presidency, do you think he should start pardoning blacks so that incarceration is an "equal opportunity punishment?"

    Change, change, change, but can't you Obama supporters be specific about anything? Can Obama and his supporters do nothing but speak in generalities?

    What are you saying that Obama can do to "reverse this trend" that no other candidate can do?

    January 21, 2008 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  9. Bethy

    Frank- Obama is playing the race card? Wasn't Hillary the one who was on CNN today with hoards of African Americans behind her while she was speaking (and being endoresed by an African American minister)? I don't see any white ministers endorsing her? But, I'm sure it has nothing to do with race, after all Hillary is not playing the race card–right?

    Wasn't she the one sending her daughter and "friends" to predominately African American churches this morning? I'm sure Chelsea normally attends predominantly African American churches everyday where she live...please, Billary is blatantly using the race-card.

    On the flip-side I do not see Obama asking every female he knows to endorse him and attending NOW meetings on Sunday mornings (pretending that this is normal for him).

    Call a spade a spade. Or in her case, the "queen of hearts"
    She is using race.

    January 21, 2008 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  10. Jose Card - Independent

    It doesn't matter how much I like the candidate.
    If this candidate is very divisive, she or he wont' be considered.
    We must elect somebody that is the best and able to unite all Americans.

    January 21, 2008 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  11. pete


    obama for president!!

    January 21, 2008 01:30 am at 1:30 am |
  12. pete

    why dont you clinton supporters get, obama is not saying he is MLK or JFK. his ideas are similar, is anything wrong with that!!!


    and please, tell me who is running for president, bill or hilary? what a joke.

    January 21, 2008 01:34 am at 1:34 am |
  13. GaryO Virginia Beach

    I saw Obama’s speech. He talked about a morality deficit, and an empathy deficit, and how we should all get together. . . . Yawn It didn’t inspire me.

    I kept thinking about how he seemed like a caricature of himself, going on and on and speaking in generalities, setting a positive tone sure, but still with no real plan for anything. You would have to be a real diehard Obama fan to call it a great speech. Here we have a black politician exploiting Martin Luther King Day by playing upon racial resentments , while complaining of demagogues who would exploit our racial divisions.

    Am I wrong in feeling he might have been a tad bit insincere?

    January 21, 2008 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  14. anna

    OBAMA 08.

    Do what you heart tells you Obama. If you ignore your race you are criticized, if you address it you are criticized. People with such little vision cannot see, but then there are those of us that are seeing you and we like what we see.

    Keep up the good work, with God's graces you may prevail.

    January 21, 2008 02:01 am at 2:01 am |
  15. Obama 08

    Speaking of BUTTS, Bill Clinton should butt out of the campaign. I'm beginning to lose respect for him.

    January 21, 2008 02:10 am at 2:10 am |
  16. Scott

    This Just goes to show how unoriginal Obama really is. He doesnt have an original thought that is his own and constantly has to quote MLK

    January 21, 2008 02:17 am at 2:17 am |
  17. Alex

    A lot of people say they are 'disgusted' that Obama would invoke Dr. King. Howver, if King were alive I think he would be quite proud of Obama, and what he stands and ahs stood for since his first foray in national politics four years ago. He gave a King worthy speech today about loving your neighbor, respecting people, and taking responsibility. If you can still find a way to deride a man for talking about those great, INNATE principles than this country really is in the crapper. And I never heard Obama say that Dr. King would support him. He only invoked his memory like Hilary and Edwards ALSO did today. He challenged Americans in a way that they have not been challenged since JFK. It was a great speech from a strong man. I was impressed and no amount of petty bickering will distort the excellent and universal message of this speech. MLK would be proud.

    January 21, 2008 02:40 am at 2:40 am |
  18. aware

    Obama managed to insert some negative snipes at his colleague into his message Sunday. For me, this and the not so veiled attempt to catch a ride from MLK colored the rest of his talk. I have heard a multitude of "preachers" and am not easily taken in by charismatic rhetoric. Obama needs to walk the talk!

    Hillary said, "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."

    January 21, 2008 03:33 am at 3:33 am |
  19. MR

    I find it very interesting that Senator Obama had to reference his notes throughout his speech today on this very pivotal day in our American history; the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. Hillary spoke straight from her heart, it showed, and it was very refreshing. This woman truly understands the issues that face African Americans, as well as ALL Americans, and that is why so many prominent and civil rights leaders who walked alongside MLK during the movement support her nomination for the Democratic Party. These individuals understand and can detect real change, and they have proven this. They gave us all the opportunities that lay before us today, so they must have done something right. Age and experience gives you something that you can't buy, nor shortcut – WISDOM. Therefore, rather than bashing our civil rights leaders for supporting Hillary Clinton, listen to what they have to say and we might just learn something about ourselves and lead this country in the right direction. God Bless America.

    January 21, 2008 04:05 am at 4:05 am |
  20. Moe, NY

    Obama...you have no right to preach from MLK's pulpit....you did not walk his walk,and although you are trying to talk his talk...it is totally unbeliveable coming out of your mouth....stop using, and abusing, MLK. Cannot believe people are actually going for this sham! Shame on you! Stop the outrageous behavior on your part....MLK was, and is, an American hero...you on the other hand are just trying to jump on his bandwagon. You will never fill his shoes! Give it up! Were you even in this country when MLK was fighting for cival rights for all??? Or, were you too busy gaining experience in foreign affairs, etc. in your childhood? You have a lot of explaining to do Mr. Obama....straight talk please...no more of the hope, change, etc....please deal in reality.

    January 21, 2008 05:27 am at 5:27 am |
  21. Geneva

    I just hate that MLK's b-day has turned into political hotbed. It's ridiculous. Most people believe in the dream that Dr. King had, and I don't think it should be tarnished and used for pubicity. In fact, that is the only I have heard about today. Is South Carolina. All the candidates need to take a second and give it rest, and try to come together for at least a few hours.

    January 21, 2008 05:45 am at 5:45 am |
  22. cyrille

    My dear Barack,

    i wish you courage,strength and over increasingly wisdom in your battle for Change.
    The American people,people from different backgrounds,skin colours,beliefs,parties...etc will never forget you. Some people will hate you,will fight,will talk you down....but the majority of the people will always be grateful for the inspiration,the hope you have brougth to them.

    YES WE CAN is our message. We have through you come to know that despite our differences we all have the same struggles.We all are facing the same ennemy and it´s only together that we can lift and bring this country to the place it used to be;We know that we are no more under the bondage of background,skin colour and etc. I´ve learned that if you work hard,and you have a good heart with GOD´s help you will get there;and if you can...YES WE CAN

    Do not about the HATERS because Haters hate...that´s all they know to do. But i still keep hope and have faith that one day when they get over their racism, empty hatred,they will come to learn from you and know that you are not alone in this battle.

    Look at all this young men and women,blach,whites,hispanics,native americans,asians,africans all rallied behind.We need to keep on with the good fight.

    May GOD bless you
    May God bless America

    January 21, 2008 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  23. Scott

    I cannot quite understand why so many of you accuse Obama of trying to be Dr. King when he made no such assertion. He was asked to give this speech over a year ago before most of you even knew who he was. I personally think if Dr. King were alive today he would be very much proud of Barack Obama, as I am. Hopefully his message will remain positive regardless of what the haters and detractors may say. If you disagree with his policies and wish to vote for another candidate, I support your right to do so.

    January 21, 2008 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  24. roger, conway sc

    Obama speaks differently when speaking to black people. I know Hillary was critized when she spoke differently in front of a group of black people in Alabama a few months back, why does the media treat him differently are they afraid he will play the race card like the balck leadership did a couple of weeks back with both Hillary & Bill. OBAMA is a politician just like the rest of them he is also a PHONY.

    January 21, 2008 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  25. Obama 08

    MOE. NY

    1. Seeing as Obama was born in 1960/61 it is impossible for him to have marched with Martin Luther King.

    2. By your standards, where were Bill Clinton and Hilary Clinton? Were they marching?

    3. You don't just arrive at the pulpit MLK preached from...you are invited...Obama was invited.

    Youth does not OWE us; Youth stands on our shoulders and reaches higher than we could; Youth sees further than we could because we fight for those who come after us....

    January 21, 2008 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
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