Rhyming reverend gets last word at Obama inaugural

January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON – Rev. Joseph Lowery was back on stage with a president, but on Tuesday the civil-rights pioneer used his wry rhymes to welcome the U.S. leader, not skewer him as he did three years ago.  OBAMA

Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the benediction at Barack Obama’s inauguration as first black U.S. president.

Lowery prayed for healing from a era of “greed and corruption,” and asked, in verse, for divine help toward a new beginning of racial harmony:

“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in 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 to laughter from the vast audience.

In 2006, speaking before then-president George W. Bush and three former presidents at the funeral of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, Lowery delivered a stern rebuke to Bush’s conduct of the Iraq war and domestic policy.

“We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more, but no more for the poor,” he said then.

Critics charged that the remarks were out of place at a funeral. Lowery defended them as relevant to Mrs. King’s life.

Also speaking at the inauguration was evangelical pastor Rick Warren, who said in his invocation that “Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven” over Obama’s historic presidency.

Gay-rights supporters had criticized Obama for awarding the inaugural showcase to Warren, an influential supporter of a successful ballot measure to ban gay marriage in California.

But Lowery got the last word, and a chorus of Amens.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed (Lowery speaks at Obama inauguration, Jan. 20)

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he is still living in 1962. his statement implies that white people must change to embrace right. that is a racist statement against the Caucasian race.

Posted by bill desmond | Report as abusive

I agree as a mixed race AMERICAN I was frankly let down. I have Olive skin and am most often associated by other races as white. It was a racist comment and age does not play a factor. You don’t forgive the 60 year old white guy because thats how it was in his day. We are not all EQUAL until our comments are all treated EQUAL. You should not be made to feel bad or just have to take the jab because the color of your skin is WHITE. It was shamefull.

Posted by Tina | Report as abusive

Personally, I was offended by the last rhyme “…when white will embrace what is right.” What is all this about racial harmony and then a closing comment of this type?? Obviously many “whites” embraced Obama. And many of every race and creed embrace “the right” everyday. What a pathetic jab as the closing note of an otherwise awesome day. Reverend Lowery, did your comment make you feel justified and righteous.

Posted by KATHIE | Report as abusive

After having read the posts here, it would seem that a lot of folks are upset with Rev. Lowery’s comments and see them as racist. I was brought up to respect regardless of race and color. I am a full supporter of Dr. King’s idea of judging not on color of skin, but content of character. My father, in his own way and time, was a civil rights pioneer in his world.
So why do African-Americans, embracing King’s legacy, continue to use color to judge? Black, yellow, white, red and brown are colors, not races. And why are white people not allowed to judge by color , but it’s OK for African-Americans to do so? Why is there a double standard in play here?
The faster we drop color as a bar by which we judge by, the quicker race relations can advance. If all are not in agreement, then we have not achieved anything nor will we. It’s time we looked upon ourselves as Americans, not red people, Indian-Americans, not white people, Caucasian-Americans, etc.

Posted by Joe the Plumber's other brother Joe | Report as abusive

Concerning obama, I have never seen such a racist following from the likes of him and this lowery fellow of his. I live in a small city and never experience such racial overtones as obama’s supporters in and around his chicago area and points in between. I have very close friends who are black and share a common love and friendship with them and enjoy their company very much and I don’t hear nor experience the feelings that obama’s world gives off. The world of obama seems very dark, dismal followed by hatred for America, whites, etc. and I just don’t get it. This is why I didn’t vote for him. If he continues supporting his racial movement who knows what the outcome will be and surely not for the common good that he claims. Big time bigotry is what I see coming from his world……

Posted by Gerry | Report as abusive

Lighten up people. The US has a long and storied history of racism. It seems every immigrant class has been a target of that bigotry for a time. Of course, this attitude was encouraged in the subjugation of the Native American population through the implementation of “Manifest Dentiny”.

Racism lies just below the surface of the American psyche and is utilized by those in power to manipulate the population’s beliefs. Unfortunately, the latest target of this technique are Arab-Americans and Muslems in general.

Wake up people….your being played. Seek to recognize the racist attitudes in yourselves and work to eliminate them. It is these attitudes that Reverend Lowery was addressing with his rhyme.

Posted by brisa | Report as abusive

President Obama needs to distance himself from this extremely racist statement. What if a white reverend said “And Blacks won’t embrace crack”. Remember this Mr. Obama : A whole lot of “crackers” voted for you.

To the Perpetually Offended & Permanently P***ed-Off: Get a grip. Unless you bristle with feigned indignation each and every time you hear something that offends your delicate sensibilities, your “wah-wah-wah” is misplaced here: Yes, methinks thou doest protest too much.

Back when your Gramps used the en-word, or your aunt made an ignorant blanket statement about folks different from her, or when a coworker told that really funny joke that made you uncomfortable, where was your indignation then?

(…and anybody who claims they’ve *never* stayed silent rather than get into an argument over syntax or stereotypes or ignorance is a liar, because we’ve all been guilty of it. Except maybe my *True Grit* / “it’s the principle of the thing” friend, Helen, and I’m the one who can still stand to be around *her*…)

Besides, haven’t we all been reminded a buhzillion times that Obama is half white? So if Lowery was speaking to “all whites,” he must’ve been speaking to Obama, too.

This should bring you immense comfort and joy. Rather than turn a mighty surplus into a mindbending deficit, or go to war to (…defeat the country responsible for 9/11? Naw, to)…bring democracy to Iraq), perhaps Obama will remember the words, white ain’t always right. ;o

Posted by Katie Newmann | Report as abusive

OK…so Mr. Lowery can say anything that he wants in front of the entire world and offend white people everywhere but I post my opinions on a blog and it is entirely removed. Old man Lowery insults white people everywhere and his statements are posted in this website but I intentionally insult him to prove a point and my post is removed. Good job way to be fair. By the way I even apologized! Go freedom of speech!

Posted by Tammie | Report as abusive

“People like Rev Lowrey do more to keep racism alive than all the neo nazis and clan members in the world.”

Well, that’s reasonable.

What’s wrong with a light-hearted reference to a Civil Rights song, from someone who marched with Martin Luther King, on a day that a black president was sworn into office? If you look at the original song, there’s no suggestion that ‘embracing what is right’ has a specific racial meaning – it just means behaving justly. It is ludicrous to call it an accusation of racism. In any case, all reference to race was confined to a joke at the ending of the prayer. From someone whose whole career was devoted to fighting racial injustices, isn’t that rather special?

Posted by Oliver | Report as abusive

it is not that white people are “sensitive” to lowery’s comments; it is that white people relate to the comment “God our weary years.” Whites understand the word “weary” as we are weary of working hard and having our taxes go for welfare and then getting slapped in the face for our caring and hard work. Thought Obama was president of all Americans but guess it’s back to business as usual with people like Rev Lowery

I found the Lowery remarks to be light and enlightening. They were perfect and even evoked a smile from the president. This election cycle has shown the world the strength that is America.

The day was bright, and the mood was light – It was no time to attack black versus white. – All races came together to put Obama in D.C. – Now there ain’t no white guilt left in me. – Lowery is still stuck in the past – Let’s hope old Lowery’s racism won’t last – My name is White Chedda’ – He should’a known betta’ – To whites and blacks – lets stop these attacks

Posted by Norman | Report as abusive

Prehaps the good Reverend should travel to Africa and lecture their leaders about the treatment of tribal minorities, civil war, the treatment of women and corruption. Africa is such an example of fairness and honest government i.e. Nigeria, Somali, etc

I keep hearing that “it was a joke”.
Where’s your sense of humor?
Here’s a joke that I like.

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow”
If it’s brown, flush it down”


How funny is that?

Posted by Dave Viterna | Report as abusive

What the Rev. was paraphrasing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZLw5ahxm -Q

Sometimes you gotta talk about a problem to get past it.


Posted by MGE | Report as abusive

Listening to him speak at the Inauguration brings to mind the scene from the movie “Alien” where the crew members are waking up from years of sleep in suspended animation. Did he miss the last forty years?

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! From a 46 y.o. white male – GOBama

Posted by meme | Report as abusive

As a white southern female, and all that that implies, I am not offended by Lowery’s words.

Don’t presume to speak for all white people when you say: “Old man Lowery insults white people everywhere…” He has only insulted those who are dense and lack comprehension skills, and those who hope to stir the pot.

For the majority of us whites, and by that I mean the majority of whites with common sense and intelligence who voted for Obama, we are not Standard-Issue Bigots with big old chips on our shoulder, eager to take offense where none is directed at us.

And I didn’t take offense at anything the “old man” who’s spent time in jail, with bandages on his head, had to say, since he wasn’t talking to me. But he must’ve spoken loudly to some of YOU, because everybody knows a hit dogs always yelps loudest…

Posted by Lydia Pepper | Report as abusive

And East Asian folks, as usual, will let the insult roll off their backs, and suffer continued racism in silence, as they always do.

Posted by Lawrence | Report as abusive

Foul! His remark was racsist. So much for a new beginning and CHANGE! Good-luck to all the Obots that bought in to this massive lie.

Posted by Terry | Report as abusive

Lowrey’s appearance at the inauguration was an embarrassment and a disgrace.

Posted by David Cavall | Report as abusive

I can’t decide if the comment was racist or not. I do, however, believe it was inappropriate.

Posted by Tami | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, it appears that racism is more than alive & well in America and it’s so sad. On a day when we were embracing each other as equals, we were again shown our differences. This not a joke and it makes me wonder how many more friends President Obama has that hold these racist views? I don’t mind – everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, I do mind them being given a platform to create more hate.

“If you got some white friends, they be clappin’ like this, y’all…”

Posted by Lovern | Report as abusive

It is amazing how the media has swept this racist’s comments under the rug and refuses to comment on them. If a white person made any comment about blacks or if Warren made a comment about gays they would have been crucified in the media.

I voted for Obama as I thought we needed change but now I am sorry I ever voted for him. To smile and nod in agreement to a racist remark such as Lowery’s is absolutely wrong. I can only wait for four years and hope we have a country left when it comes time to vote again. I for one will not vote for the coronation of Obama again.

In the end it is comments like Lowery’s which will drive a wedge between blacks and whites which will drive more whites to organizations which are racist. The double standard in this country must end before racism will ever end.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

This was a very racist comment towards white people. 400 hundred years you say? Your own people sold you into slavery….My bad for what somebody did over here to your great great grand but it wasn’t me and it wasn’t you. Colleges give black people extra points when the mark their race on entrance aplications….simply for their race!!! There is a minimum quota for black people at every job. African American????? Were you born in Africa? Have you been there one bathroom for 50 people? If you were born there and became a US citizen then you had to go through the natrulization process declaring allegiance to this country and disowning your old country. So its just AMERICAN!!!!! Obama was raised by his white mother and white grandmother because his black father stepped out. He should apologize if only for his mother and grand mother.

Posted by LAW | Report as abusive

Even if Lowery’s words were divisive, you can choose unity. You don’t have to march to that beat. Just roll your eyes at another racist old man and get on with it.

You know, those last lines that rhymed are actually from an old blues song by Big Bill Broonzy. It’s important to know a little history before we go name-calling and getting offended, eh?

Posted by college student | Report as abusive

My Country

For those who are angry about the Inaugural prayer Rev. Lowery prayed, please forgive him. He’s an old warrior, and it may be quite difficult for him to let go of the hurt from the past. One must understand the struggles of a people from so long ago. I would like to thank; whites, reds, yellows and browns, who have stood by us as African Americans to finally make it to some point in history were we can finally say maybe, just maybe we have almost arrived at the “mountain top”. It’s been a long hard struggle! I don’t want to say only if you’re “black” you understood what he prayed the HURT and the HUMOR. I do believe others who aren’t African American understood as well. I do believe he didn’t mean any harm.

If I may share some of my family’s history to help some understand why some of our elders speak the way they do. My father and mother were married for almost 60 years, raised 10 children in the ghetto and helped 7 of those children through college. My father fought in 3 wars: WWII, Korean, and the beginning of Vietnam. He was always trying to prove himself as an American. While on leave he would go home to visit his mother in Mississippi and some would spit on him in his uniform, shouting at him to take off that uniform you black (n word). Yet he jumped ships when being bombed, watched his buddies killed in war, hide in fox holes fighting the enemy, kicked by some white officers and called the (n word)when he thought he had found a quiet place to kneel and pray on ship(only 17, he said he was scared the first time they were attacked by the Japanese and all had to jump ship)…..and being left to walk alone on a dark rode after a car drives up and pick up all the soldiers, he reaches for the door to get in and the car drive off. He heard the driver say, “ I don’t drive no ( n word) “, so he continued walking alone. He told me that hurt, and that driver didn’t see me as an American! With tears at times he would tell us this is “OUR COUNTRY” treat others with respect and “IT DIDN’T MATTER THE COLOR.”

He never wanted us to deal with what he had gone through. He was always trying to prove himself as an American always! All my life because of my father it’s been God, family and county. My country, my America. When Rev. Lowery gave the prayer, when he said “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest.”, I thought of my father, who would have loved to see this day. I shared my father’s history not to lay blame or point fingers.. But to say thank you America ( whites, reds, yellows, browns, and yes African Americans) for coming together this day and saying we are ONE COUNTRY, and we can stand together as ONE RACE OF PEOPLE.. As the Apostle John would say, “let us love one another little children.” My father taught all of his children and grandchildren to “LOVE ALL PEOPLE”.. He never past on the hate to us that others pushed at him for years!! He would only cry his pain to my mother the hurt he suffered… She finally let us know this intimate moment between the two of them after his death. In memory of my beloved father (I miss you daddy) he died Veteran’s Day 2005.

Posted by My Country | Report as abusive