Barack Obama’s eulogy for South Carolina State Senator and Emanuel AME Reverend Clementa Pinckney, delivered on the heels of a historic stretch of American tragedy and renewal, was a defining moment of his Presidency—as well as the ragged, bloody, gorgeous reckoning with social justice that’s been forced into the wider social consciousness one dead black body at a time.
Over a half hour, Obama laid out steady, elegant fire—building from saying that “faith is about more than individual salvation, it’s about collective salvation,” to saluting the Charleston church’s “defiance of unjust laws,” to flatly stating the wrongness of slavery, the foolishness of our eyes being opened “sporadically” by gun violence, the subtlety of contemporary racial bias (“calling Johnny back for an interview but not Jamal”).
He called for an “honest accounting of American history,” and, mentioning the endless call for a “conversation” on race—that mild, avoidant reaction—he said: “There’s no shortcut, we don’t need more talk.”
And then, returning to the center of his eulogy, the concept of unearned grace, he started tuning to the organ, and he sang it. Amazing Grace.
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