Sorry, Rev. Wright, You’re No Barbara Jordan

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright is back in the spotlight — this time of his own volition. Those hoping for contrition, or even a little bit of self-reflection, will be sorely disappointed. In a PBS interview with Bill Moyers and a speech today at the National Press Club, Obama’s former pastor went after his critics — with a vengeance. At the National Press Club, Wright said that attacks on his sermons were actually “an attack on the black church.”

“This is about Barbara Jordan,” he said. “This is about Fanny Lou Hamer. This is about my grandmamma.”

So apparently Wright — who fancies himself a prophetic voice — thinks that criticizing his sermons is akin to attacking the late Barbara Jordan, a beloved stateswoman who was the first African-American woman from the South elected to Congress. Since the Rev. Wright’s views and sermons are already fresh in our minds, let’s refresh our memories about Jordan’s brand of prophetic oratory.

Here’s what she had to say during her famous 1976 address to the Democratic National Convention:

I wonder what Barbara Jordan would have to say about “God damn America”?

Read her full speech here. (For a true treat, listen to the audio version on the same page.)

UPDATE: It turns out that an author of a forthcoming autobiography of Barbara Jordan has tackled the question of what the late congresswoman would think about the Rev. Wright affair — and she comes to a different conclusion than I do. While her take is worth reading, I’m sticking to my guns on this question. I think that the Rev. Wright’s oratory encourages a debilitating cynicism about America and its promise. In contrast, Barbara Jordan acknowledged and assailed injustice, but she did not traffic in the rhetoric of alienation. Indeed, in her 1976 convention speech, she explicitly warned, “We must not become the ‘New Puritans’ and reject our society.” Instead, she pointed the way forward and encouraged citizens of all races to draw sustenance from the best of our shared American tradition.

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Sorry, Rev. Wright, You’re No Barbara Jordan

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