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Biography of Rev. Jeremiah Wright

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Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. (born September 22, 1941) is a former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), a megachurch in Chicago, Illinois with around 10,000 members. In early 2008, Wright retired after 36 years as the pastor of his congregation.[1][2] Following retirement, Wright's beliefs and manner of preaching were scrutinized when segments from his sermons were publicized in connection with presidential candidate Barack Obama.[3] Obama addressed the matter in his "A More Perfect Union" speech,[4]. To lay his actual positions on various social issues before the nation, Rev.Wright gave a speech before the NAACP on April 27th, 2008, wherein he stressed that he was not "divisive", but "descriptive", and that the Black church experience, like the Black culture was "different" not "deficient" [5].



Personal life

Wright was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a racially mixed section called Germantown.[6] His parents are Jeremiah Wright, Sr., a Baptist minister who pastored Grace Baptist Church in Germantown, Philadelphia from 1938 to 1980,[7] and Mary Elizabeth Henderson Wright, a school teacher who was the first black to teach an academic subject at Roosevelt Junior High. She went on to be the first black person to teach at Germantown High and Philadelphia High School, where she became the school's first black vice principal for girls.

Wright graduated from the Central High School of Philadelphia in 1959, among the best schools in the area at the time.[6] At the time, the school was around 90% white.[8] 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."[6]

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.[9]

Education and military service

Jeremiah Wright (second from right), in 1966, as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. He is tending to President Lyndon Johnson, for which he was commended (see letter superimposed on photo).
Jeremiah Wright (second from right), in 1966, as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. He is tending to President Lyndon Johnson, for which he was commended (see letter superimposed on photo).
Wright in Marine Corp boot camp graduation photo, 1961.
Wright in Marine Corp boot camp graduation photo, 1961.

From 1959 to 1961, Wright attended Virginia Union University,[1] in Richmond. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy's 1961 challenge to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country," Wright gave up his student deferment, left college and joined the United States Marine Corps and became part of the 2nd Marine Division with the rank of private first class. In 1963, after two years of service, Wright then transferred to the United States Navy and entered the Corpsman School at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, where he graduated as valedictorian.[9] Having excelled in corpsman school, Wright was then trained as a cardiopulmonary technician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland where he graduated as salutatorian.[9] 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 awarded Wright three letters of commendation.[10][11][12]

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.[9] 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.[13]

Career as minister and honors

Wright in 1973, shortly after arriving at Trinity United Church of Christ.
Wright in 1973, shortly after arriving at Trinity United Church of Christ.

Wright became pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago on March 1, 1972, at a time when its membership was only 87 members.[1] In March 2008, Trinity United Church of Christ is the largest church in the mostly white[14] United Church of Christ. 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.”[15] Thomas, who is a member of the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland, has also preached[16]and worshipped at Trinity United Church of Christ (most recently on March 2, 2008).[15]

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

Trinity and Wright were profiled by correspondent Roger Wilkins in Sherry Jones' documentary "Keeping the Faith" broadcast as the June 16, 1987 episode of the PBS series Frontline with Judy Woodruff.[17]

Wright, who began the "Ministers in Training" ("M.I.T.") 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.[18] The church's mission statement is based upon systematized Black liberation theology that started with the works of James Hal Cone.[19][20]

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 Malcom X School of Nursing, and on boards and committees of other religious and civic organizations.[9]

Wright has received a Rockefeller Fellowship and seven honorary doctorate degrees, including from Colgate University, Valparaiso University, United Theological Seminary and Chicago Theological Seminary.[9] Wright was named one of Ebony magazine's top fifteen preachers.[11] 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".[21][22]

Relationship with Barack Obama

Barack Obama, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, first met Wright and joined his church in the 1980s, while he was working as a community organizer in Chicago before attending Harvard Law School.[23] Obama and his wife, Michelle, were later married by Wright, and both their children were baptized by him.[4] The title of Obama's memoir, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by one of Wright's sermons[23] and he credits Wright with strengthening his faith.[4]

The public invocation before Obama's presidential announcement was scheduled to be given by Wright, but Obama withdrew the invitation the night before the event.[24] Wright wrote a rebuttal letter to the editor disputing the characterization of the account as reported in The New York Times article.[25]

In late 2007, Wright was appointed to Barack Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee, a group of over 170 national black religious leaders who supported Obama's bid for the Democratic nomination;[26] however, it was announced in March 2008 that Wright was no longer serving as a member of this group.[27]

Sermon controversy

In March 2008, a controversy broke out concerning Barack Obama's long-term relationship with Wright, his former pastor and religious mentor.[28][29] ABC News found several racially and politically charged sermons by Wright, including his suggestion that past U.S. policies were partially responsibile for the September 11 attacks, his statement, "God bless America... No!... God Damn America...for killing innocent people...for treating her citizens as less than human," and his assertion that "[t]he government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color."[30][31] Some of Wright's statements were widely interpreted as being deeply offensive.[32][33] Some have noted that Wright's quotes had been taken out of context, including in one case, where Wright was allegedly quoting Ambassador Edward Peck.[34] Some have also noted that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made similar comments about the imperialistic nature of American foreign policy and claimed that America was the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today",[35] and at another point stating: "America was founded on genocide, and a nation that is founded on genocide is destructive."[36]

Following negative media coverage and during a temporary drop in the polls,[37] Obama responded by condemning Wright's remarks, cutting his relationship to his campaign,[38] and delivering a speech entitled "A More Perfect Union" at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[39] In the speech, Obama rejected Wright's offensive comments, but refused to disown the man himself.[40] Although the speech, which attempted to explain and contextualize the comments, was generally well-received,[40][41] some continued to press the question of Obama's long-standing relationship with Wright.[42][43] When asked his opinion of the controversy, Wright said, "I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt for those who were doing that, were doing it for some very devious reasons."[44] "I think they wanted to... put an element of fear and hatred and to stir up the anxiety of Americans who still don't know the African-American tradition, know nothing about the prophetic theology of the African-American experience, who know nothing about the black church, who don't even know how we got a black church.”[45]

On April 26, 2008, Wright appeared on PBS in an interview with Bill Moyers, in which Wright responded to the criticisms of his sermons.[46]

On April 27, Wright gave a keynote address at a fundraising dinner for the Detroit-chapter of the NAACP. In front of nearly 10,000, Wright gave a powerful speech in which he referred to the controversy, saying, "I am not running for the Oval Office," referring to media and Republican attempts to make the controversy part of the Obama campaign. Wright argued that Americans were beginning to change their attitudes and perceptions about differences among societal groups. Citing linguistic, pedagogical, hermeneutic, and other studies, and contrasting varied musicologies, he sought to show how Black culture is "different" but not "deficient", while pointing out how European-American culture has historically held it to be deficient, and punctuating his speech at numerous times with the rhetorical refrain, "Change is coming". Earlier that day, he delivered a sermon to 4000 at the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.[47]

On April 28, 2008, Wright made additional remarks, and also answered questions from reporters, at the National Press Club in Washington, D. C. [48]

Trip to Libya

Wright has been quoted as saying: "When [Obama’s] enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli [to visit Muammar al-Gaddafi] with [Louis] Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell."[49] Wright has stated that his participation in the trip implied no endorsement of either Farrakhan, or Gaddafi, the de facto military dictator of Libya, and their views.[49]


  • 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 978-0817011987
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. and Colleen Birchett, Africans Who Shaped Our Faith (Student Guide), Urban Ministries, Inc., May 1995, ISBN 978-0940955295
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. and Jini Kilgore Ross, Good News!: Sermons of Hope for Today's Families, Judson Press, December 1995, ISBN 978-0817012366
  • 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 978-0817012502
  • 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 978-0913543436 (also African American Images, 1994, ISBN B000T6LXPQ)
  • 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 978-0913543481
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr., What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, June 2002, ISBN 978-0806634067
  • Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr., From One Brother To Another, Volume 2: Voices of African American Men , Judson Press, January 2003, ISBN 978-0817013622
  • 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 978-0800637125
  • Ernest R. Flores and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Tempted to Leave the Cross: Renewing the Call to Discipleship, Judson Press, November 2007, ISBN 978-0817015244
  • Wright, Jeremiah A, Jr. (2004), "Doing black theology in the black church", p 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 0687053900
  • 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, c2005. ISBN 0687053900
  • 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 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.[50][51]


  1. ^ a b c Pastor Trinity United Church of Christ
  2. ^ Ramirez, Margaret (2008-02-11). Barack Obama spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., preaches last sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved on 2008-03-22.
  3. ^ Banks, Adelle (2008-03-22). Obama Finds Pulpit in Center of Racial Divide. Washington Post. Retrieved on 2008-03-22.
  4. ^ a b c Barack Obama (2008-03-18). Text of Obama's speech: A More Perfect Union. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on 2008-03-18.
  5. ^ Obama's ex-pastor gives fiery speech to NAACP. CNN. Retrieved on 2008-04-28.
  6. ^ a b c Obama's Rev. Wright Mythology. Newsmax.
  7. ^ Gabrielle Brochard and John DeVecchi (2006). Biographical Essays. Retrieved on 2008-03-25.
  8. ^ Wright, Jeremiah A. (1989). The pilgrimage of a pastor: The autobiography of Jeremiah A. Wright, Sr. Aaron Press, ASIN B0006F1LD4
  9. ^ a b c d e f Dr. Jeremiah A Wright Jr.. Corinthian Baptist Church. Retrieved on 2008-03-25.
  10. ^ Korb, Lawrence and Ian Moss. "Factor military duty into criticism". Available online. Archived.
  11. ^ a b Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Biography. The History Makers (2002-01-11). Retrieved on 2008-03-23.
  12. ^ The Biography of the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.. Charter Day 2004 Distinguished Alumni Biographies. Howard University (2004-03-04). Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
  13. ^ Emily Udell, "Keeping the Faith", In These Times, February 8, 2005. Available online. Archived.
  14. ^ Gorski, Eric (2008-03-18). Message of Obama Pastor Forged in Civil Rights Movement. Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Retrieved on 2008-03-27.
  15. ^ a b Guess, J. Bennet (2008-03-14). Chicago's Trinity UCC Is "Great Gift to Wider Church Family. United Church of Christ. Retrieved on 2008-03-27.
  16. ^ White People Welcome at Trinity United Church of Christ. YouTube. Retrieved on 2008-03-27.
  17. ^ Jones, Sherry (producer & director), Wilkins, Roger (correspondent), Woodruff, Judy (anchor). (June 16, 1987). FRONTLINE: reports: Keeping the Faith. Alexandria, Va.: PBS Video. OCLC 18127027., OCLC 21357978, OCLC 18126496, OCLC 42508237

    Ruth, Daniel. "Chicago minister exalts `Faith'" (paid archive), Chicago Sun-Times, June 16, 1987, p. 50. 

    McBride, James. "On leaving the ghetto" (paid archive), The Washington Post, June 16, 1987, p. F3. 

    "'Sunday morning worship America's most segregated hour'", Post-Tribune, June 21, 1987, p. 4. 

  18. ^ Donor Profiles. The Fund for Theological Education. Retrieved on 2008-03-23.
  19. ^ Talev, Margaret (2008-03-20). Obama's church pushes controversial doctrines. The McClatchy Company. Retrieved on 2008-03-28.
  20. ^ Wright, Jeremiah (2007-03-01). Talking Points. Trinity United Church of Christ website. Retrieved on 2008-03-31.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Schettler, Emily (2008-03-27). Medal Recipient's Recent Comments Stir Controversy. The Simpsonian. Retrieved on 2008-04-26.
  23. ^ a b Brachear, Manya (January 21, 2007). Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.: Pastor inspires Obama's 'audacity'. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved on 2008-03-23.
  24. ^ Kantor, Jodi (2008-03-6). Disinvitation by Obama Is Criticized. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-03-23.
  25. ^ Wright, Jeremiah (2008-03-11). Letter to The New York Times (pdf). Trinity United Church of Christ - Bulletin. Retrieved on 2008-03-23.
  26. ^ Renowned Faith Leaders Come Together to Support Obama. Democracy in Action (2007-12-04). Retrieved on 2008-03-24.
  27. ^ Smith, Ben (2008-03-14). Wright leaves Obama campaign. The Politico. Retrieved on 2008-03-24.
  28. ^ Brian Ross. "Obama's Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11", ABC News, March 13, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-03-17. 
  29. ^ Andrew Sullivan. For The Record The Atlantic: The Daily Dish, March 16, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-03-18
  30. ^ Jeff Goldblatt. "Obama’s Pastor’s Sermon: ‘God Damn America’", FOXNews, March 14, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-04. 
  31. ^
  32. ^ Dilanian, Ken. "Defenders say Wright has love, righteous anger for USA", USA Today, 2008-03-18. Retrieved on 2008-04-02. 
  33. ^ Adubato, Steve. "Obama's reaction to Wright too little, too late", MSNBC, March 21, 2008. 
  34. ^ Martin, Roland (March 21, 2008). The full story behind Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s 9/11 sermon. Anderson Cooper 360. CNN. Retrieved on 2008-04-25.
  35. ^
  36. ^ Bennett, James B. "Obama's pastor's words ring uncomfortably true". San Jose Mercury News, 20 March 2008. Available online. Archived.
  37. ^ Reid, Tim. "Polls show Barack Obama damaged by link to Reverend Jeremiah Wright", Times Newspapers, Ltd, March 21, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-05. 
  38. ^ Johnson, Alex. "Controversial minister leaves Obama campaign", MSNBC, 2008-03-14. Retrieved on 2008-04-28. 
  39. ^ Barack Obama. "Remarks by Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union'", The Christian Science Monitor, March 18, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-03-18. 
  40. ^ a b Nedra Pickler, Matt Apuzzo. "Obama confronts racial division", The Associated Press, March 18, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-04-06. 
  41. ^ "Mr. Obama’s Profile in Courage", The New York Times, 2008-03-19. Retrieved on 2008-03-19. 
  42. ^ "Obama's minister's remarks won't fade", The Associated Press, March 21, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-03-26. 
  43. ^ "Obama's racial problems transcend Wright", The Politico, March 18, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-03-18. 
  44. ^ Stern, Andrew. "Obama ex-pastor says he unfairly painted a fanatic", Reuters, 2008-04-24. Retrieved on 2008-04-25. 
  45. ^ Bill Moyer's Journal. PBS (2008-04-25). Retrieved on 2008-04-26.
  46. ^ Bill Moyer's Journal. PBS (2008-04-25). Retrieved on 2008-04-26.
  47. ^ Nichols, Darren A.; David Josar. "Wright delivers fiery, humorous speech at NAACP dinner", Detroit News. 
  48. ^ Transcript of Wright's remarks, as provided by CQ Transcriptions. New York Times (2008-04-28). Retrieved on 2008-04-28.
  49. ^ a b Kantor, Jodi (2007-04-30). A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith. New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-03-24.
  50. ^ The Majesty Of The Blues - Track list
  51. ^ Great Preachers: Jeremiah Wright (1998)

External links