Tales from the Trail

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)

For more Reuters political coverage, click here.

Comments
129 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

One last thing.As usual Reuters can’t figure out what was wrong with the comments by Lowery but of course they can remind us of Rick Warren and his controversy.

Posted by Noel Granite | Report as abusive
 

Every word was eloquent until the good Reverend stood up to the podium. I, as a white American, am tired of being blamed and playing the “blame game” for the past. I have always taught my children to be tolerant of all races. After today, however, I give up. The majority of Obama’s supporters were white, but today the Reverend’s message was loud and clear, “Some of us blacks are not ready to get along.”

Posted by Renee' | Report as abusive
 

The Rev should have stayed at the house.

Posted by Ricky | Report as abusive
 

The point was the point.It was ALL wonderful. LIGHTEN UP PEOPLE!. It was a prayer, not a debate. Celebrate this great day that an intelligent, strong, smart man has come in to the Presidency. Be grateful! Those of you that are still so “ouchy” maybe you should travel out of your zone to see the rest of the world. You’ll appreciate this great day more.
signed, An average (white) American.

Posted by Jeff Holdquist | Report as abusive
 

The prayer was beautiful until the last sentence all but nullified the spirit of it. Even Obama cringed at the racist line. Why is racism only wrong for white people in this political climate?Why can’t we talk honestly about it? I am happy that Obama seems to be proposing a much more inclusive philosophy than some of his supporters would like.

Posted by EILEEN P CONNORS | Report as abusive
 

The double standard is sickening. Lowery makes a racist remark and the press, other than right wing blogs, ignores it completely and praises Reverend Lowery! Yet, Rick Warren would sneeze and they would be all over it.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive
 

I am OUTRAGED at the verbiage and context of Rev Joseph Lowery’s benediction today. Had a white man said the reciprocal statement, he would have been crucified by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and others of the same ilk. This was not a message of American unity, it was a message that is no less racist than the rantings of the Imperial Wizard of the KKK. Shame on you, and Obama, too!

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive
 

This is from an old childrens song .I mean this song is as old as dirt it must go back at least a hundred years .I am 52 and this was old when I was a kid.That is probably why as the article says that the crowd laughed.

Posted by rich | Report as abusive
 

I am White and I have done something right. Thanks to Obama, I voted Republican for the first time. I can’t wait to vote again for Sarah Palin in 2012!

Posted by Jerry | Report as abusive
 

I was offended by the reverend’s speech today. Not only was he blatantly racist and stereotypical, but it is a prime example of what Barack Obama stands for… and America elected into office!

Posted by Jackie | Report as abusive
 

Rhyming Reverend? That’s it? How about Controversial Pastor? Rev. Lowery’s otherwise eloquent benediction was sadly overshadowed by his final remarks of prayer that were neither funny nor appropriate. They were absurd. But not nearly absurd as the fact that Rev. Warren was more criticized yesterday for what he might say, than Rev. Lowery has been criticized for what he did say today. Regardless of the context or origins of the rhyme, it should have been rephrased or simply left out all together. Can you imagine the kind of outrage there would be if it was Warren who prayed to God something like, “We ask you to help us work for that day when we’ll see that white be alright, when the red man can get ahead, man; when yellow is known for more than the cello, when brown will mellow down, when black don’t be whack.” Rev. Warren would be run out of town on rail, and rightly so. For me personally, Rev. Lowery’s statements were tactless and mildly offensive, however I’m willing to extend him a good measure of grace and forgiveness. His significant contribution to the civil rights movement and our American history is unquestionable. His starkly contrasted and polarized view of race relationships, formed in the midst of a dramatically charged time, is understandable. But it’s the noble intentions behind his words, if not their immediate effect, and our God, who is the God of our weary years and silent tears, that I can embrace without reservation.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive
 

When black will not be asked to get in back? Was it just me or did I not see the following blacks front and center:
a black President, First Lady, children, lady singing, man playing music, lady reading poetry…

Posted by Random | Report as abusive
 

I don’t get why the Rev. said “yellow should be mellow”. Yellow is refered to as Asians. I am an Asian guy , and i think we are very mellow, but after all that was a funny rhyme.

Posted by duke | Report as abusive
 

you people relax, breathe in some fresh air
and say something if you are a minority and had to fight to be treated equal. If not, allow others to get to where you are, just because they are gods children on earth same as you.

Posted by white man | Report as abusive
 

The remark in question was blatantly more racist than the remark Don Imus got crucified for. I was watching the reverend live, thinking maybe we have a chance. Then it was instant barf. I’m po’d. Where are the news media? Why aren’t the talking heads screaming as never before? Will all government correspondence now be addressed to the blackhouse.gov ?
Though I did not vote for President Obama, I do wish for him all the strength and mental toughness that will be expected/demanded of him for the next 4 years. He has some tough decisions to make. But like the other presidents, when he leaves office he’ll look like he has been beat down on Chicagos’s south side. I keep in mind that ever so correct adage ‘You can’t please everyone’. How true. As a young child my mother taught me to always pray for the President and to pray for our country. Beginning with JFK I did, and will continue to do so.

Posted by drosselmeier | Report as abusive
 

Yes, it was pure racist and hate but he can do that white males cannot. This double standard will be the undoing and finish of america. It’s over turn out the lights.

 

Excuse me? Did I miss something? The Reverend’s comments were not at all offensive, nor racist or sterotypical. ” we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get 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.” Just because he acknowledges certain colors or races does not at all make him racist in anyway. This whole thing is absurd and I strongly disagree.

Posted by Troi | Report as abusive
 

I’m just elated to know that it’s not racist call Asians “Yellows” and native Americans “Reds”.

Posted by Nobody | Report as abusive
 

Reverend’s message was loud clear and poetic -And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.-
A very close call to the Gospel of Jesus.
The reading and understanding of the whole speech of benediction gives an articulated sense to the message; unfortunately, the eloquent last paragraph charged with sense of humor about the the historic oppression and exploitation of African slaves and descendants was misunderstood for some persons. We need, specially in these times, to cultivate an spirit of critic and capacity of analysis, in order to evolve as a mature country and do not repeat again and again the experience of another similar Bush administration.

Posted by Rosa Sanson | Report as abusive
 

The speech was completely racist… is it such a dream for the “white to embrace what’s right”?? we are doomed… over the next 4 years, we will be overwhelmed with racist comments and antiwhite movements. obama is a racist n….

 

..”when white will embrace what is right”..

I see. And the reverend Lowerys type is going to be the judge and jury as to when “white will embrace what is right”. Is that right? That’s a good racket. It’s also not Christian at all. Didn’t Christ,(I assume the reverend Lowery is a Christian minister?)say that all are guilty and have sinned. “when white will embrace what is right”, that is an incredibly ARROGANT JUDGEMENTAL statement and unchristian to boot. I think the reverend Lowery should pray for guidance.

Posted by Bobby | Report as abusive
 

So outage is fine when you “think” someone just accused you being racist, but its perfectly fine for gays and lesbians to be compared to pedophiles and accuse them of incest. GMAFB. Lowrey at least came across as genuine and sincere. Warren’s words were hollow and tired. Nothing new and original. And ONLY inclusive if you are a Christian.

 

I am disgusted by this so called reverand’s suggestion that “whites should embrace what’s right.” He’s a racist. Shame on Obama for letting him use racist language against white people at his inauguration. So much for unity!

Posted by My 2 Cents | Report as abusive
 

Your interpretation of the Reverend’s comments as being “divine help toward a new beginning of racial harmony” were so interesting. I also enjoyed everyone’s attempt to make these comments palatable to white people by claiming that they were being made because of the historic aspect of those comments. I am reminded of the other famous situation when we were asked to analyze the word IS. Didn’t it go something like…if is is is? Sad that on such an important date in history that these were made and laughed at. I wonder what future generations will make of them? Are they racist? Of course they are.
And by the way, is is always is!

Posted by mthd | Report as abusive
 

Everyone needs to get over themselves already! You asked the Dems to get in line and support Bush as he announced the invasion of Iraq…and we did…support our President. You crucified those who spoke out against the war and the President. How do feel about that war and that ex-Pres now? The Reverend’s speech today was not indicative of some sort of reverse racism set to rear its ugly head. That is simply ridiculous thinking which has echoes of the fear your new President has asked you to put aside. Say, Amen, Amen, and Amen!

Posted by Sherri | Report as abusive
 

We’ve come a long way in a couple generations and I think that rhyme is a good reminder of that. Hopefully it makes you think about how we’ve come from racial slurs being OK to white people being offended by the implication that they are NOT doing what’s right with respect to treating others with respect.

When you decide whether someone is “racist” or whether it is OK that someone says something, think for a moment on the intent of what they say. Rev Lowery included that rhyme in his prayer probably to add a dash of humor, and yeah maybe it was cheesy, outdated, and un-PC, but the message is that he wants us to live in a world free from racism. Rev Warren likened gay marriage to adults marrying children because he wants people to perceive gay relationships as unnatural and wrong.

Posted by Lorna | Report as abusive
 

all part of the hypocrisy,politics from the pulpit in a white church, because of aclu and similar groups they could loose charity status,but how many campaigns are staged from the pulpit of a black church?it is part of the service,never a mummer of objection.if obama and others had walked out when the should have, then the double standard might not exist,and there might be a lot more mixed congregations which would be a good thing.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive
 

Shame on reverend Lowery for stating a shallow, stupid racist remark at the inauguration. He should have said that humankind needs to get it right. This is so shallow, esp. when so many youths are using guns to settle quarrels, and so moms are having babies with so many different fathers. This cycle has not changed. I have seen it for many years working in the public. So the rev. needs to open his eyes, and not talk stupid!

Posted by et | Report as abusive
 

Lowery is a reverse-racist. He knew better, but also knew he could get away with it from a complicit mainstream press.

Posted by Susan | Report as abusive
 

Give Obama a Chance – This is his first dance – He might have a plan – He might be the man – This is day one – let him have fun – But he better not hide behind Hillary’s Pantsuit – Or in 4 years he’ll get the boot.

Posted by Norm Smith | Report as abusive
 

Rev. Lowery is nearly 90 years old, give him a break! He founded the SCLC with Martin Luther King, Jr. and marched and fought for civil rights in this country wtihout which there would certainly be no President Obama today. How is saying when white will embrace what is right racist? Are all of you trying to say that because a black president was elected that racism no longer exists in this country…are you kidding me? How many people were polled during the campaign who said that they would never vote for Obama because he was black? Where were all of you holier than thou people then? What he said does not mean that white people are wrong and non-whites are right but that there is still progress to be made in this country and anyone who disagrees with that is either living in a bubble or is being completely dishonest.

To all of those who have an issue with the use of the colors red, brown and yellow (although no one seemed to have a problem with the color BLACK …), these were the terms used during his primetime (the 1960′s) and not in a negative light. My grandfather (who was black) referred to black people as “coloreds” until the day he died because that was the term that grew up with and it was not an insult to him. Black, red, yellow, brown, etc. are positive terms from the 1960′s and 1970′s just as today we say African-American, Asian-American, Native American, Latino or Latino American, etc.

I should not really be analyzing the statement because these sorts of “sayings” are not made for analysis but it is meant to motivate people at that moment to do something positive. Anyone on this board who does not undestand this either was not around during the civil rights movements in the 1950′s and 1960′s, or their parents did not support the movements (which was the case for the majority of America until JFK was assassinated), or did not study it.

Until you learn more about the history of the civil rights movement in America and Rev. Lowery (don’t pretend to know anything about Dr. King if you do not know Rev. Lowery) you should reserve your criticism.

Posted by Denise | Report as abusive
 

Although disappointed, I was encouraged to see President Obama’s smile diminish at the reading of the “white” comment. And I’m what you’d probably refer to as a “southern white redneck”.

Posted by Stacy | Report as abusive
 

Someone is using that boy for something. A pole turtle I tell you.

Posted by jim | Report as abusive
 

Granted the reverend is from an era when the terms he used were common, perhaps not acceptable, but common. However, the speech he gave was not IN that time, it’s now and now those terms are NOT acceptable. I personally am offended by what he said. I’m appalled that Obama’s people either (1) didn’t approve his speech prior to him giving it or (2) felt that what he said was acceptable. I for one am dreading the next four years giving the racisim we’ve seen in the first couple of hours of office.

Posted by Michelle | Report as abusive
 

“when whites embrace what’s right”. The whites just elected an African American president. This was just another putdown, period.

Posted by Kathy | Report as abusive
 

There seems to be a persistent myth that all white people are would-be slavemasters if they just had the chance to ‘turn back the clock’- I am deeply offended by this, which seems to be regurgitated by those who would profit from continually reopening these wounds.
It should be obvious that there is a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the Southern territories of the USA in the past. The northern territories were not of this legacy, in fact much blood was spilled to destroy, in all areas of our influence, what had been a well established worldwide institution- unfortunately, in other areas of the world including Sudan, Mauritania and parts of Asia, this is still a quiet continuation of this practice in one form or another. Let’s direct our attention and outrage there-

Posted by gp | Report as abusive
 

I think it would be interesting to see what the outcry would have been had this been reversed and it were a comment about the day when “black would embrace what is right”… wonder what the media and others would be saying then??? Shouldn’t all be equal, and not have to walk on eggshells for either side??

Posted by E | Report as abusive
 

I was around during the civil rights era. And I don’t need to be told to sit down and shut up by some hypocritical, race baiting “reverend” who couldn’t carry water to the people that built this country.

Posted by George | Report as abusive
 

It’s funny to see the comments. The people on the left think it has nothing to do with race at all. They are so blinded because they drank the Obama kool aide and nothing Obama or anyone around Obama could ever say anything wrong.

Does this remind you of Obmama’s old Rev? You know the White KKK of America comment! Follows a pattern doesn’t it! I was ok with his Speech and most of the Rev prayer, but when I heard that part I stopped and thought on all days you had to make this comment. He should have just not said anything that could be miss construed as racists.

Posted by J | Report as abusive
 

We all know that PEOPLE, of any race, that make statements like reverend Joseph Lowery made, are RACIST.

As a first time democratic voter, I hope I don’t regret voting for Barack based on the racism I’ve seen in the first couple of hours of office.

Racism from anyone is wrong!

I pray the reverend will embrace what is right!

Posted by ds | Report as abusive
 

Sheesh – maybe it’s b/c I’ve been down in Atlanta for almost 6 years, but I thought it was a cute phrase. As a white American, I didn’t take offense. I also looked at his age and figured he was referring to all the progress that has been made since he started his crusade 50 years ago! That and I figured I would give him the benefit of the doubt that I would give my own grandfather. I thought his was one of the better ‘speeches’ of the day – maybe second only to Obama’s. I did come looking online to see reactions to that phrase, but seriously people, all I have seen are extreme over reactions! Calm down, take a deep breath, and savor the notion that a mixed black and white man was elected president of the United States. It wasn’t all that long ago when his very existence would have caused great consternation among both whites AND blacks.

Posted by Angie | Report as abusive
 

I voted for Obama and I am very happy about my vote.
But I think Mr. Lowery’s poem was insulting and I believe if he was white, it would be considered a racist remark.
It is time to drop those comments about any color and I do believe it should be addressed as a very unacceptable poem by Obama. For a remark on a national stage I believe Mr. Lowery’s poem made him look silly.

Posted by claire dodd | Report as abusive
 

I understand that Lowery did great things with Martin Luther King Jr. However that was in the 60′s. Our country needed that speech in the 60′s and 70′s but it does not fit with today. Being that Lowery is nearly 90 years old I understand that he is still living life as if it were 1962, however it is now 2009 and a half black and half white man is elected president. That does show that our county is moving forward on racism. Racism is still here, it will always be here because we are all different and it is not just about black and white issue.

Racism is defined as:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

I think his speech would have been great in the 60′s however today black people are not asked to sit in the back, red people own several businesses, OK so yellow people could mellow out a bit, but white people could embrace what is right? I must not get it because what is right does not mean a half black half white man is President of the U.S. but what this person will do for our country should be what is right. I understand that the intent of this comment was not that whites were wrong and non whites were right, but white people are not the only people who are racists in our country. Some authentic restaurants will only hire their race. What about the Miss Black America Pageant.

Give Obama a chance to help this country without putting racism back in the mix. Let this man fix the economy, healthcare issues, the war in Iraq, at the same time let him protect our country from people who want to destroy it and us living in it.

Yes it was true that some white people said they would not vote for Obama because he was black but how many black people only voted for him because he was half black? How many black people never voted before until this election? You should not vote for a person because of the color of their skin, vote for them because you believe they are the best candidate. I believe Obama will help our economy. That is the reason I voted for him. I did not vote for him because of his race, he convinced me that he would better the economy.

Americans lets better this economy and protect our country together and put racism aside. God Bless America!

Posted by Natasha | Report as abusive
 

This rev. is a joke. Bringing “old time’n religion” shucking’ and jiving’ prayers to an inaugural for the President of the United States is stupid. It’s about as preposterous as having the Pope dance a jig while watching a Notre Dame Football game in his underwear. There is a time and place for everything, this wasn’t the time or place for crazy rhetoric like that. Obama looks stupid for having that old man pull a stunt like that. What has this country come to? What a joke. :(

Posted by Mo in ER | Report as abusive
 

Now, since I have used the same tactics as Mr. Lowery, I am going to apologize for the racial comment about shining shoes. Racial comments hurt. We have come a long way to get away from them and we should keep on trying. I again am apologizing for my comments that offended, something I am sure Lowery would never do. By the way, I don’t want anyone to forget what happened, remember it, learn from it, and move forward.

Posted by Tammie | Report as abusive
 

Lowery really shows his color and era he came from. I’m sure the blacks in the audience loved it (laughter) and the race card continues and is only worse now(after reading forums throughout the internet. You will never hear the liberal drive-by networks make comments about this but the real issue of what the majority of White Americans feel about this racial slur stands out in these forums. Had Bush had his reverend make a speech like that (race reversal) there would’ve been riots and investigations by multiple black groups including an NAACP investigation.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive
 

As a white person who has tried to do the right thing for the last sixty seven years I was extremely hurt by Lowery’s comments about “whites embracing what is right.”
My hurt has turned to anger and wonder how Lowery assumes that white people only embrace what is wrong.

And also found his prayer the “blacks not be asked to give back” totally different from Obama’s call for all of us to be responsible or does Obama not include blacks in the call for responsibility and Lowery just did not hear it.

 

I can’t help but giggle at how “sensitive” a few whites were to the Reverends little rhyming scheme. Get over yourselves! There was nothing heavy-handed in the Rev’s remarks. Embrace what was right.

Posted by Brett Remington | Report as abusive
 

It was the day after MLK’s birthday. We inaugurated our first AA president. Rev. Lowery’s benediction was both light-hearted and serious. I loved his Amens at the end, he was calling for the crowd to join in. Saying “white could be right” was not a put-down, it was simply a statement, considering the life of this 90-something civil rights veteran.

Posted by Bill X | Report as abusive
 

People like Rev Lowrey do more to keep racism alive than all the neo nazis and clan members in the world. He holds himself out as an advocate of equality and unity yet he reserves his right to make racist divisive remarks. You say he was just joking? I remember last year when Michael Richards (Cosmo Cramer) was just joking during a standup routine. That was all you hear about in the news. I have only seen this reported a few times in the media. The press is free though…., of a spine. I understand they dont want to say anything critical of the first black president, people might say they are racist!

Posted by dave | Report as abusive
 

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