Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright likened those who alter, edit or redact the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Pharisees in chapter nine of John who created their own version of events rather than accepting a blind man’s claim that he was healed by Jesus.
“We let folks repackage King … They want to tell you today what they think Dr. King stood for,” said Wright, who predicted that such repackaging would reach a fever-pitch next week as the nation marks the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights icon’s assassination.
Pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ – a Chicago mega church that once counted President Barack Obama and his family among its nearly 9,000 members – Wright keynoted The Chronicle’s 28th Annual Community Service Awards Gala Saturday night at the Benton Convention Center.
He told a crowd of more than 700 that distorting King’s dream and message is a bi-partisan and mutli-racial campaign. Black preachers have used King’s words to preach a message advocating prosperity for the church and its members. The “prosperity pimps” have it all wrong, Wright said.
“King was not a prophet of prosperity … King was on the side of the poor.”
On the other extreme, Wright contends that right-wingers have distorted King’s words to advocate for causes such as ending affirmative action. Knocking notions of a “so-called post racial America,” Wright suggested that those who think this country is at a place where content of character trumps skin color are delusional.
“Ask the parents of Trayvon Martin is racism a thing of the past,” Wright said.
He urged the crowd to tell their own stories instead of leaving them for others to retell or distort.
“Don’t let someone tell you your history,” he said. “When you let someone tell your story, they are going to get it wrong every time.”Wright’s words were likely more than irony. He came to national prominence in 2008 when video surfaced of a passionate sermon in which he fervently criticized the state of racism in America. The sermon, delivered in the spirited fashion used by black preachers for generations, would have caused few waves had Wright not been the pastor of Barack Obama, who was then a U.S. senator vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama’s rivals and critics pounced, labeling Wright a radical hate-monger. It all eventually led to a public falling out between Obama and Wright, a man who has been credited with giving the bi-racial president his black identity.
Wright said the black church tradition, which came under the national microscope as a result of his controversial sermon, has sustained, inspired and propelled generations of African Americans.
“Don’t let a non-believer talk about your black church,” he said, lumping Fox News’ Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity (who are among his toughest critics) into the non-believers category. “They don’t know nothing about the black church.”
Wright was well-received by the crowd throughout his 20-minute long address, earning a rousing standing ovation when he concluded. He drew a decidedly muted response, however, the one time he criticized the president by name.
Wright, giving another example of how Dr. King’s legacy has been distorted, said that t-shirts featuring the image of Dr. King beside President Obama’s are popular in Chicago. The words “I Have a Dream” are printed on the shirts under King’s image, while “The Realization of the Dream” is printed under Obama’s. Contending that King was a peacemaker and the president is not, Wright said the words, “I Have a Drone” should be under President Obama’s photo.
“(Obama) was my member for 20 years, but he got it wrong,” Wright said, criticizing the president’s policies on drone attacks in the Middle East and Palestinian statehood.
Nineteen local residents and organizations took home awards for their efforts to make this city a better place for all.
Linda Jackson-Barnes was overcome with emotion as she accepted her Woman of the Year award. Jackson-Barnes, the longtime personal assistant to Mayor Allen Joines, thanked her family for their support. Her brothers and elderly father travelled from Tennessee for the ceremony. Jackson-Barnes said that she is able to live in Winston-Salem and do the job that she loves because her brothers serve as caregivers for their dad.
“I’m a family girl, and I love to serve,” she said.
Winston-Salem State University Football Coach Connell Maynor took time during his Man of the Year acceptance speech to honor his wife, Meryl, on a day that also marked their 17th anniversary.
He presented her with 17 roses (16 red ones for love and a pink one for friendship).
“You better keep God first and your wife second,” Maynor told the crowd.
To read about all of this year’s award winners, see the special insert in this week’s issue.