January 20th, 2009
12:57 PM ET
13 years ago

Rev. Joseph Lowery delivers benediction at inaugural ceremony

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a leader during the civil rights movement and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, delivered the inaugural ceremony's benediction Tuesday on the west front of the U.S. Capitol.

Reverend Joseph Lowery.

"We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day," Lowery, 87, said in delivering the prayer.

He asked that Americans cling to the spirit of fellowship embodied at the inauguration.

"We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right," Lowery said.

Filed under: Inauguration
soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. Kelli

    "when black will not be asked to give back"?!?! We should ALL be giving back. This is not a land of free handouts. "when white will embrace what is right"?!?! We should ALL embrace what's right. That includes NOT POINTING FINGERS. Where was today's "spirit of unity" in this prayer?? This was totally inapproriate and only supports the speration and racism that exists today.

    January 20, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  2. frustrated

    Lowery was playing off a saying that is old and a black standard on racism and color preference – we said it as kids. I am 53. When I was a kid, there were pictures of little black kids being hosed by the police and attacked by police dogs.

    If you're white, you're right
    If you're yellow, you're mellow
    If you're brown, stick around
    And if you're black, get back.

    His was a play on those words and the saying is more about institutions than individuals.

    Lowery has seen ugliness from people, sanctioned by government and not, give him a break. Before you start yelling victim, walk a mile in his shoes.

    January 20, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  3. gary

    this man must think that bull conner is still around wake up we are all americans and by the way if you look at history especially the 1950s most of the people holding blacks down in the south were all democrats

    January 20, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  4. josiah

    Not surprised really...

    In this country if you rip on Christians, or white people, you're fine...

    January 20, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  5. JT

    Didn't we just elect a black man as president? I would think that would be evidence enough to Rev. Lowry that blacks, browns and reds (I'm sure Native Americans love being called "red man") are treated as equals in the United States.

    January 20, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. TM

    I do hope CNN will correct their transcription error: "when black will not be asked to GET IN BACK" were Rev. Lowery's words. I replayed that part to make sure. Yes, he is elderly (87) and did not speak as clearly as some others – this is not an excuse to misquote him in an inflammatory manner.

    Will the CNN moderator please ask for a correction? Thanks.

    January 20, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  7. sublime prince

    Yes we need to get by this and Yes We Can! Our new President did not get into office without every races dedication. BUT LETS NOT ACT LIKE SLAVERY DIDNT HAPPEN AS WELL AS SEPARATE BUT UNEQUAL AND THE CONSTANT EXISTENCE OF RACISM. Do you think African Americans are supposed to just forget? Don't take a step backwards (any of us). New situations create new responses. Let's keep building!


    American Human

    January 20, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  8. Grace B.

    Kelli, the statement ends with "get back" not "give back". Rev. Lowery did not create these statements. They were sayings from the beginning of the US Civil Rights Movement. He was reflecting on what was and how we, Americans are now changing and mending race relations.

    January 20, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  9. meredith

    wow... racism at its finest... and here i thought obama was all about unifying and uniting... you hear this benediction... you read michelle obama's thesis... and you realize that these are very very racist people...

    January 20, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  10. Charles

    Racism will never end until all sides let go of the past and we all look forward instead of keeping one foot in the grave of past injustices.

    January 20, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  11. Jae

    IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!! Unfortunately, from the comments, white folk still don't get it. They have a hard time acknowledging history where their ancestors were evil. They need to see behind before EVERYONE can move forward. Get out of denial, be happy for a people that have overcome all the hatred tossed at them.

    January 20, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  12. Christie Taylor

    Once again it is a misquote, it should say "get back"...like in back of house to enter or bus.

    January 20, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  13. Geesh

    Let is rest already those blowharded, democrat, left wing liberal wanks. The REV. was wrong to say what he did in his benediction and what was the point really? I am amazed that the raace card was being thrown around on the day the first black President was sworn in.

    January 20, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  14. Laura

    I just have to say that as a white person, I appreciated Rev. Lowery's moving words. I wasn't at all offended by his prayer that whites embrace what's right. I took it as a heartfelt wish that we ALL, including white folks, can and should work together against discrimination and racial oppression. Even though white folks aren't the ones who suffer from racist systems, we can still do the right thing. It is good that he acknowledged the role we have played, and have to play, in creating a more just world.

    Let's not pretend that systemic racism goes both ways: throughout this country's history, various institutions have been used to benefit white people at the expense of African Americans and other people of color. Sure, there are episodes of discrimination against white people, but it's not the same thing. It's not living under the terror of lynchings or having your skull cracked by the police for riding in the wrong part of the bus or being sold away from your mother to a slave owner who would rape and beat you if he wanted to. My ancestors - immigrant tradespeople, factory workers, farmers - had a tough time, but they never had to deal with that. Not in this country, anyway.

    There's not a thing wrong with someone like Rev. Lowery, who has lived to see white people take stands on either side of justice, who has marched beside white allies and stood up to white bullies - praying that we choose the right side. He knows white people have the power to decide which side of history we stand on. And since his speech - as I reading some of the hateful wishes and racial slurs that have been written not here, but on other parts of the web about him in reaction to his words - I pray we embrace what's right, too.

    January 20, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  15. me2

    Racism will not end until people stop being racist...black people, white people, asians, whatever...and I'm not sure that can happen. It would be nice if could tho.

    January 20, 2009 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  16. Rosario Lopez of San Antonio, Texas

    Jae, you have to be kidding! Seriously you're joking, right? No one is denying the past, if we were then it wouldn't be in our history books. If you were not an anglo saxten you were discriminated against. Plain and simple. It was not only the African Americans that had injustices against them, remember that.

    Again, it is right in the history books. Go to a library and pick one up, I guarantee that not one of them are missing that imporant chapter of Slavery.

    January 20, 2009 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  17. niun

    "when white will embrace what is right," Now that is very offensive .. Can't let go of racism for one day! It's a complete insult!!!!

    January 20, 2009 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  18. Dyan Dalton

    This was a PRAYER!!!! I see no reverence in referring to a racial rhyme during a prayer. This inauguration should not have been used as a platform about race or color – it is about AMERICA. Rev Lowery set his community back 50 years with that ignorace.

    Rae: I am tired of being forced to "look back in history". Quit your whining and seize the opportunities in front of you. This pity party is getting old.

    January 20, 2009 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  19. Brenda

    I too was offended by the Rev. Lowery's comments. Most whites are TRYING to embrace what's right - how about a little help here?

    January 20, 2009 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  20. Southern un-Comfortable

    Was he praying to God or Snoopy Snoop Dogg?

    That is pure, unadulterated ignorance...just a sign of things to come!!

    January 20, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  21. Karen

    There is still a major problem with racism in this country and it is black racism against whites. If a white person had pulled a stunt like this, a great cry would have been heard amongst the people of color and we would have been harshly criticized. I believe the reaction to this racist speach was AMEN. Well, isn't that special. If there were truly still a problem with equality in this country, how in the hell did we elect a black president and the list of very successful people of color...all colors....is long.

    January 20, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  22. Deanna

    How disappointing that on a historic day, instead of asking God to heal our country, the Rev. divides us again by his careless choice of words. Sadly it seems he is the one who has embraced his own pride as if Pres. Obama's election is a victory for African Americans. Maybe we haven't come as far as we thought.

    January 20, 2009 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  23. in cali

    didn't whites do what was right by voting obama into office? we cast more votes than blacks so i'm not sure what his offensive line meant. i think the only racist act here was by the lowery.
    too bad such a promising day has been flawed by him. why stir this up on a day of celebration.

    January 20, 2009 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  24. Jason

    To the comment about looking forward instead of back...was Lowry looking back to make his cheap shot in his prayer? Boy, I am glad that he has put the past behind him. He had me fooled there for a minute when he bashed white people at the end. I don't care what color people are, but if you want to shout about racism, shout about these discriminatory remarks.

    January 20, 2009 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  25. Lady Davis

    To : Tom, gchat, Janey, Dave, Tina Wilson, jim, Frank, Kelli, gary, josiah, meredith, and Geesh, I feel you all are trying to make a big deal out of nothing. You don't seem to understand what Lowery was saying and if you read the comment of "frustrated" maybe you will get it. Get down off your whiny soap boxes and stop being so sensitive. You know the saying, if the shoe fits wear it? I feel you all are only offended because you are choosing to wear the shoe which must fit. I didn't find anything he said to be racist. It was a great prayer. It's just like party crashers to say what you all have said, however, it is a free country and all of us have the right to say what we feel. So I say, grow up. :0)

    January 20, 2009 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
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