Jeremiah Wright

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Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Wright ClintonWhitehouse crop.jpg
Wright in 1998
Born Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr.
(1941-09-22) September 22, 1941 (age 79)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Known for Former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ

Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. (born September 22, 1941) is a pastor who is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago, with a congregation exceeding 6,000.[1] In early 2008, Wright retired after 36 years as the Senior Pastor and no longer has daily responsibilities at the church.[2][3] 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.[4] Obama addressed the issues raised by the Wright controversy in his speech entitled "A More Perfect Union".[5]

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".[6]

Early years

Wright was born and raised in a racially mixed section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania called Germantown.[7] 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,[8] 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.[7] At the time, the school was around 90 percent white.[9] 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."[7]

Education and military service

Jeremiah Wright (second from right, behind I.V. pole), in 1966, as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. He is tending to President Lyndon Johnson, standing behind him is Bill Moyers.[10] (A letter of thanks on behalf of the President is superimposed on photo).

From 1959 to 1961, Wright attended Virginia Union University,[2] 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.[11][12] 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.[13][14][15]

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.[11] 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.[16]

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.[11]

Career as minister

Jeremiah Wright (center left), in 1998, greeting President Bill Clinton during a prayer breakfast at the White House.

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.[17] By March 2008 Trinity United Church of Christ had become the largest church in the mostly white[18] 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."[19] Thomas, who is a member of the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland, has also preached[20] and worshipped at Trinity United Church of Christ (most recently on March 2, 2008).[19]

Trinity and Wright were profiled by correspondent Roger Wilkins in Sherry Jones's documentary Keeping the Faith broadcast as the June 16, 1987 episode of the PBS series Frontline with Judy Woodruff.[21] In 1995, Wright was asked to deliver a prayer during an afternoon session of speeches at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.[22]

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.[23] The church's mission statement is based upon systematized Black liberation theology that started with the works of James Hal Cone.[24][25]

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.[11]

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."[26] 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,[27] excerpted parts which were subject to intense media scrutiny.[4][28][29][30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

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."[33] Writing for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates characterized Wright's remarks as "crude conspiratorial antisemitism."[34] 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."[35]

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."[36] "In other words", another Atlantic writer, Jeffrey Goldberg, alleged, "[H]e regrets speaking plainly instead of deploying a euphemism."[37] 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."[38]

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."[39]


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.[40] 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.[41][42]


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.[11] Wright was named one of Ebony magazine's top 15 preachers.[14] 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".[43][44] 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.[45]


  • Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., "Music as Cultural Expression in Black Church Theology and Worship", Journal of Black Sacred Music 3, 1 (1) (Spring 1989).
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. and Jini Kilgore Ross, What Makes You So Strong?: Sermons of Joy and Strength from Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Judson Press, November 1993, ISBN 978-0-8170-1198-7
  • Jawanza Kunjufu and Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Adam! Where Are You?: Why Most Black Men Don't Go to Church, African American Images, June 1997, ISBN 978-0-913543-43-6 (also African American Images, 1994, ISBN B000T6LXPQ)
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. and Colleen Birchett, Africans Who Shaped Our Faith (Student Guide), Urban Ministries, Inc., May 1995, ISBN 978-0-940955-29-5
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. and Jini Kilgore Ross, Good News!: Sermons of Hope for Today's Families, Judson Press, December 1995, ISBN 978-0-8170-1236-6
  • William J. Key, Robert Johnson Smith, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. and Robert Johnson-Smith, From One Brother to Another: Voices of African American Men, Judson Press, October 1996, ISBN 978-0-8170-1250-2
  • Frank Madison Reid, III, Jeremiah Wright Jr. and Colleen Birchett, When Black Men Stand Up for God: Reflections on the Million Man March, African American Images, December 1997, ISBN 978-0-913543-48-1
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr., What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, June 2002, ISBN 978-0-8066-3406-7
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr., From One Brother To Another, Volume 2: Voices of African American Men , Judson Press, January 2003, ISBN 978-0-8170-1362-2
  • Wright, Jeremiah A, Jr. (2004), "Doing black theology in the black church", pp. 13–23, 213–214. In Linda E. Thomas (Ed.), Living Stones in the Household of God: The Legacy and Future of Black Theology, Minneapolis: Fortress. ISBN 0-8006-3627-9
  • Wright, Jeremiah. "Here I am, send me". In Awakened to a calling: reflections on the vocation of ministry, Ann M. Svennungsen and Melissa Wiginton (Eds.), Nashville: Abingdon Press, c2005. ISBN 0-687-05390-0
  • Wright, Jeremiah. "In the Lord's house, on the Lord's day". In Awakened to a calling: reflections on the vocation of ministry, Ann M. Svennungsen and Melissa Wiginton (Eds.), Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005. ISBN 0-687-05390-0
  • Iva E. Carruthers (Editor), Frederick D. Haynes III (Editor), Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. (Editor), Blow the Trumpet in Zion!: Global Vision and Action for the 21st Century Black Church, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, January 2005, ISBN 978-0-8006-3712-5
  • Ernest R. Flores and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Tempted to Leave the Cross: Renewing the Call to Discipleship, Judson Press, November 2007, ISBN 978-0-8170-1524-4

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.[46][47]

See also


  1. Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Pastor Emeritus, Trinity United Church of Christ
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pastor Trinity United Church of Christ
  3. Ramirez, Margaret (2008-02-11). "Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., preaches last sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Banks, Adelle (2008-03-22). "Obama Finds Pulpit in Center of Racial Divide". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-03-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Barack Obama (2008-03-18). "Text of Obama's speech: A More Perfect Union". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-03-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Obama's ex-pastor gives fiery speech to NAACP". CNN. Archived from the original on May 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Desmond S. King; Rogers M. Smith (4 September 2011). Still a House Divided: Race and Politics in Obama's America. Princeton University Press. pp. 4–. ISBN 978-0-691-14263-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Gabrielle Brochard and John DeVecchi (2006). "Biographical Essays". Retrieved 2008-03-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Wright, Jeremiah A. (1989). The pilgrimage of a pastor: The autobiography of Jeremiah A. Wright, Sr. Aaron Press, ASIN B0006F1LD4
  10. Bill Moyers Journa . Transcripts | PBS
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 "Dr. Jeremiah A Wright Jr". Corinthian Baptist Church. Retrieved 2008-03-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Factor military duty into criticism - Lyndon B. Johnson, Dick Cheney, The White House -
  13. Korb, Lawrence and Ian Moss. "Factor military duty into criticism". Available online. Archived.
  14. 14.0 14.1 "Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Biography". The History Makers. 2002-01-11. Retrieved 2008-03-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "The Biography of the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr". Charter Day 2004 Distinguished Alumni Biographies. Howard University. 2004-03-04. Retrieved 2008-04-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Emily Udell, "Keeping the Faith", In These Times, February 8, 2005. Available online. Archived.
  17. Yearbooks of the United Church of Christ, 1971–72
  18. Gorski, Eric (2008-03-18). "Message of Obama Pastor Forged in Civil Rights Movement". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2008-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Guess, J. Bennet (2008-03-14). "Chicago's Trinity UCC Is "Great Gift to Wider Church Family". United Church of Christ. Retrieved 2008-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "White People Welcome at Trinity United Church of Christ". YouTube. Retrieved 2008-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Jones, Sherry (producer & director), Wilkins, Roger (correspondent), Woodruff, Judy (anchor) (June 16, 1987). FRONTLINE: reports: Keeping the Faith. Alexandria, Virginia: PBS Video. OCLC 18127027.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, OCLC 21357978, OCLC 18126496, OCLC 42508237
    Ruth, Daniel (June 16, 1987). "Chicago minister exalts `Faith'" (paid archive). Chicago Sun-Times. p. 50.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    McBride, James (June 16, 1987). "On leaving the ghetto" (paid archive). The Washington Post. p. F3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    "'Sunday morning worship America's most segregated hour'". Post-Tribune. June 21, 1987. p. 4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "Official Program". Washington, D.C.: Million Man March. 1995-10-16. Cite journal requires |journal= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Donor Profiles". The Fund for Theological Education. Archived from the original on March 2, 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Talev, Margaret (2008-03-20). "Obama's church pushes controversial doctrines". The McClatchy Company. Retrieved 2008-03-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Wright, Jeremiah (2007-03-01). "Talking Points". Trinity United Church of Christ website. Archived from the original on 2008-03-25. Retrieved 2008-03-31.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Sermon printed in Preaching Today, 1990.
  27. Obama's Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11 Brian Ross and Rehab el-Buri, ABC News, March 13, 2008
  28. Dilanian, Ken (2008-03-18). "Defenders say Wright has love, righteous anger for USA". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-04-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Adubato, Steve (March 21, 2008). "Obama's reaction to Wright too little, too late". MSNBC.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Johnson, Alex (2008-03-14). "Obama Strongly Denounces his ex-Pastor". MSNBC. Retrieved 2008-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Listening to Rev. Wright" OnPoint, 29 April 2008.
  32. Michael Powell (2008-06-01). "Following Months of Criticism, Obama Quits His Church". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Squires, David (June 10, 2009). "Rev. Jeremiah Wright says "Jews" are keeping him from President Obama". The Daily Press. Retrieved June 10, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Ta-Nehisi Coates (June 11, 2009). "Jeremiah Wright". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 11, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Jake Tapper (June 11, 2009). "Rev. Wright: I Meant to Say "Zionists" Are Keeping Me from Talking to President Obama – Not Jews". ABC News: Political Punch. Retrieved June 11, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Sweet, Lynn (June 12, 2009). "Wright Apologizes for 'Them Jews' as Museum Reopens". Politics Daily. Retrieved June 12, 2009. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. "Rev. Wright Clarifies". Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. June 11, 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2009. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help); External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. "ADL Expresses Outrage At Reverend Wright's Hateful And Inflammatory Comments". Anti Defamation League. June 11, 2009. Retrieved June 12, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Mossburg, Marta. "Reverend Wright brings his anti-American crusade to Baltimore." The Baltimore Sun. 21 June 2011. 22 June 2011.
  40. Jennifer O'Shea. 10 Things You Didn't Know About the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. US News and World Reports
  41. Church to build on Wright's land. Seattle Times
  42. Rev Jeremiah Wright to retire in 'white suburb'. The Telegraph
  43. Jeremiah Wright receives Simpson’s first Carver Medal
  44. Schettler, Emily (2008-03-27). "Medal Recipient's Recent Comments Stir Controversy". The Simpsonian. Retrieved 2008-04-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  45. Goldman, Julianna (2008-05-01). "Rev. Wright's honorary degree canceled by Northwestern". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2008-05-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  46. The Majesty Of The Blues – Track list
  47. Great Preachers: Jeremiah Wright (1998)

External links