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Was Joseph Lowery’s Benediction at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Racist?

Rev. Lowery to the left of MLK in Ithaca, NY during the civil rights era (cornell photo)

Rev. Lowery to the left of MLK in Ithaca, NY during the civil rights era (cornell photo)

A long time civil rights leader and companion of Martin Luther King, Jr.,   Reverend Joseph Lowery, stirred up a little controversy in some circles due to the benediction he gave at President Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday.  The benediction which lasted a little over 5 minutes asked for God’s guidance and forgiveness, expressed thanks for our 44th president and ended on what some are calling a racist note.  What?!  Rev. Joseph Lowery racist?    Here’s an excerpt:

Rev. Joseph Lowery

Rev. Joseph Lowery

God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee . . . .We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other . . . .Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, 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. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

(Full transcript of Lowery’s Benediction here)

Or if you prefer to watch/listen to it again:

The closing words of the prayer have gotten a few people’s dander up.  What do you think?   Was the reference to black, brown, yellow, red, and white going too far?  “Red man” certainly seems to be a pejorative these days.  Is asking for the day “white will embrace what is right” a racist comment?  Some have also pointed out that the phrases were reflective of common thinking in the civil rights era and that he was giving a nod to that time.  The phrasing about black brown and white might have been inspired  by his blues song back in the late 1950s (not sure where the yellow and red references come from):

What do you think?  Was the benediction racist or offensive to you personally?  If so, please tell us why.  If not, tell us why you think it was ok.

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