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White House Prayer Breakfast, 1998
|Born||Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr.|
September 22, 1941
White House Prayer Breakfast, 1998
|Born||Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr.|
September 22, 1941
Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr., (born September 22, 1941) is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), in Chicago with a congregation exceeding 6,000. In early 2008, Wright retired after 36 years as the Senior Pastor and no longer has daily responsibilities at the church. Following retirement, Wright's beliefs and preaching were scrutinized when segments of his sermons were publicized in connection with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Obama addressed the issues raised by the Wright controversy in his speech entitled "A More Perfect Union." On April 27, 2008, Wright defended his record in a speech before the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), saying he was not "divisive" but "descriptive" and that the black church experience, like black culture, was "different" but not "deficient".
Wright was born and raised in a racially mixed section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called Germantown. His parents are The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sr. (1909–2001), a Baptist minister who pastored Grace Baptist Church in Germantown, Philadelphia, from 1938 to 1980, and Dr. Mary Elizabeth Henderson Wright, a school teacher who was the first black person to teach an academic subject at Roosevelt Junior High. She went on to be the first black person to teach at Germantown High and Girls High, where she became the school's first black vice principal.
Wright graduated from Central High School of Philadelphia in 1959, among the best schools in the area at the time. At the time, the school was around 90 percent white. The 211th class yearbook described Wright as a respected member of the class. "Always ready with a kind word, Jerry is one of the most congenial members of the 211," the yearbook said. "His record in Central is a model for lower class [younger] members to emulate."
From 1959 to 1961, Wright attended Virginia Union University, in Richmond and is a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Zeta chapter. In 1961 Wright left college and joined the United States Marine Corps and became part of the 2nd Marine Division attaining the rank of private first class. In 1963, after two years of service, Wright joined the United States Navy and entered the Corpsman School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Wright was then trained as a cardiopulmonary technician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Wright was assigned as part of the medical team charged with care of President Lyndon B. Johnson (see photo of Wright caring for Johnson after his 1966 surgery). Before leaving the position in 1967, the White House Physician, Vice Admiral Burkley, personally wrote Wright a letter of thanks on behalf of the United States President.
In 1967 Wright enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1968 and a master's degree in English in 1969. He also earned a master's degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Wright holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (1990) from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he studied under Samuel DeWitt Proctor, a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
His wife is Ramah Reed Wright, and he has four daughters, Janet Marie Moore, Jeri Lynne Wright, Nikol D. Reed and Jamila Nandi Wright, and one son, Nathan D. Reed.
Wright became pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago on March 1, 1972; it had some 250 members on its rolls, but only about 90 or so were actually attending worship by that time. By March 2008 Trinity United Church of Christ had become the largest church in the mostly white United Church of Christ denomination. The President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ, John H. Thomas, has stated: "It is critical that all of us express our gratitude and support to this remarkable congregation, to Jeremiah A. Wright for his leadership over 36 years." Thomas, who is a member of the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland, has also preached and worshipped at Trinity United Church of Christ (most recently on March 2, 2008).
Trinity and Wright were profiled by correspondent Roger Wilkins in 's documentary "Keeping the Faith" broadcast as the June 16, 1987 episode of the PBS series Frontline with Judy Woodruff. In 1995, Wright was asked to deliver a prayer during an afternoon session of speeches at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
Wright, who began the "Ministers in Training" (MIT) program at Trinity United Church of Christ, has been a national leader in promoting theological education and the preparation of seminarians for the African-American church. The church's mission statement is based upon systematized Black liberation theology that started with the works of James Hal Cone.
Wright has been a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and other educational institutions. Wright has served on the Board of Trustees of Virginia Union University, Chicago Theological Seminary and City Colleges of Chicago. He has also served on the Board Directors of Evangelical Health Systems, the Black Theology Project, the Center for New Horizons and the Malcolm X School of Nursing, and on boards and committees of other religious and civic organizations.
Wright attended a lecture by Dr Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, on the GF Watts painting Hope, which inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 based on the subject of the painting - "with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God.... To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope... that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting." Having attended Wright's sermon, Barack Obama later adapted Wright's phrase "audacity to hope" to "audacity of hope" which became the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, and the title of his second book.
Wright, who was Barack Obama's former pastor, gained national attention in March 2008 when ABC News, after reviewing dozens of Wright's sermons, excerpted parts which were subject to intense media scrutiny. Obama denounced the statements in question, but after critics continued to press the issue of his relationship with Wright he gave a speech titled "A More Perfect Union", in which he denounced Wright's remarks, but did not disown him as a person. The controversy began to fade, but was renewed in late April when Wright made a series of media appearances, including an interview on Bill Moyers Journal, a speech at the NAACP and a speech at the National Press Club. After the last of these, Obama spoke more forcefully against his former pastor, saying that he was "outraged" and "saddened" by his behavior, and in May he resigned his membership in the church.
On June 9, 2009, in an interview with the Daily Press of Newport News, Wright indicated that he hadn't had contact with Obama up to that point because "Them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter, that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office." Wright also suggested that Obama did not send a delegation to the Durban Review Conference in Geneva on racism because of Zionist pressure saying: "[T]he Jewish vote, the A-I-P-A-C vote, that's controlling him, that would not let him send representation to the Durban Review Conference, that's talking this craziness on this trip, cause they’re Zionists, they would not let him talk to someone who calls a spade what it is." Writing for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates characterized Wright's remarks as "crude conspiratorial antisemitism." On June 11, 2009, Wright amended his remarks during an interview with Mark Thompson on his radio program, Make it Plain. "Let me say like Hillary, I misspoke. Let me just say: Zionists... I’m not talking about all Jews, all people of the Jewish faith, I’m talking about Zionists."
Wright wrote on his Facebook page apologizing for his remarks on June 12, 2009. He wrote, "I mis-spoke and I sincerely meant no harm or ill-will to the American Jewish community or the Obama administration... I have great respect for the Jewish faith and the foundational (and central) part of our Judeo-Christian tradition." "In other words", another Atlantic writer, Jeffrey Goldberg, alleged, "[H]e regrets speaking plainly instead of deploying a euphemism." The Anti Defamation League released a statement condemning Wright's remarks as "inflammatory and false. The notions of Jewish control of the White House in Reverend Wright's statement express classic anti-Semitism in its most vile form."
In June 2011, in a speech at Empowerment Temple in Baltimore City, Wright called the State of Israel "illegal" and "genocidal" and insisted, "To equate Judaism with the state of Israel is to equate Christianity with [rapper] Flavor Flav."
Wright retired as pastor from Trinity United Church of Christ in early 2008. Over the course of his tenure, he brought the Church's membership from 87 in 1972 to over 8,000 parishioners. Trinity United purchased a lot in Tinley Park, a predominantly white Chicago suburb, and built Wright a 10,340-square-foot (961 m2) home valued at $1.6 million.
Wright has received a Rockefeller Fellowship and seven honorary doctorate degrees, including from Colgate University, Lincoln University of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Valparaiso University, United Theological Seminary, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Starr King School for the Ministry. Wright was named one of Ebony magazine's top 15 preachers. He was also awarded the first Carver Medal by Simpson College in January 2008, to recognize Wright as "an outstanding individual whose life exemplifies the commitment and vision of the service of George Washington Carver". On May 1, 2008, Northwestern University withdrew its invitation for him to receive an honorary doctorate in light of the controversy over his recent remarks.
Wright has written several books and is featured on Wynton Marsalis's album The Majesty of the Blues, where he recites a spoken word piece written by Stanley Crouch, and on the Odyssey Channel series Great Preachers.
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