In his famous Philadelphia speech on Race, Barack Obama justified the inflammatory statements of his pastor, friend, and former campaign advisor, the man he selected to marry him and to baptize his children, the Reverend Mr. Jeremiah “God damn America” Wright by quoting William Faulkner’s famous statement that “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past,” pointing to “segregated schools,” “legalized discrimination,” and “a lack of economic opportunity (for) black men” as the historical basis for Wright’s vicious hatred and malicious lies.
(Segregated schools, legalized discrimination, and lack of economic opportunity were) the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted.
But, as Ronald Kessler points out, there is no truth in such a picture of Jeremiah Wright’s early life at all. Jeremiah Wright never experienced segregated schools. In fact, Wright attended the ultra-elite Central High School, essentially Philadelphia’s equivalent of New York’s Stuyvesant High School, a college preparatory magnet school, the second oldest public secondary school in the United States, and the only high school in the country authorized to grant academic degrees.
In his speech on race, Barack Obama tried to explain away his longtime ministerâ€™s denunciations of America by saying that for blacks of his generation, memories of â€œhumiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away.â€
But an examination… of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.â€™s background reveals that Obamaâ€™s characterization of his upbringing is mythology.
Described by Obama as his sounding board and mentor for more than two decades, Wright was born in Philadelphia in 1941. He lived in a racially mixed section called Germantown, which consisted of homes on broad tree-lined streets in northwest Philadelphia. The owners then were middle-class families.
For 62 years, Wrightâ€™s father, the Rev. Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, was pastor at Grace Baptist Church of Germantown. He was one of the first blacks to receive a degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Wrightâ€™s mother, Mary Elizabeth Henderson Wright, was a schoolteacher. She was the first black to teach an academic subject at Roosevelt Junior High, the first to teach at Germantown High, and the first to teach at the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She became vice principal of Girls High in 1968.
Rather than attend the more racially mixed Germantown High School at 40 East High St., Wright traveled a few miles to the elite Central High School at 1700 West Olney Ave., graduating in 1959. Opened in 1838, Central High has a distinguished past and admits only highly-qualified applicants who are privileged to attend from all over the city. It is comparable to the Bronx High School of Science and Boston Latin School, both public schools known for academic excellence.
When Wright attended Central High, the student body was 90 percent white, according to students who attended around the same time. At least three-quarters of the students were Jewish. Former students of the period say racial tension did not exist.
Bill Cosby, who attended the school until transferring to Germantown High, has referred to Central as a â€œwonderfulâ€ school. In contrast to Wright, Cosby has denounced blacks who take refuge in self-pitying victimhood and seek to blame whites for problems in the black community.
â€œCentral High was a marvelous academic environment,â€ says Tod Mammuth, who graduated in 1965 and is now a Philadelphia-area lawyer. â€œYou had to have high academic credentials to be accepted and a high IQ score. Many later said it was more rigorous than college. We had no racial friction.â€
There was no legally-enforced discrimination in 1950s Philadelphia. Nor was Jeremiah Wright embittered as a young man. He attended Virginia Union University in Richmond, but was sufficiently patriotic in 1961 that he dropped out of college, apparently inspired by a speech by John F. Kennedy, to join the US Marine Corps. He subsequently became a Navy Corpsman, and trained as a cardiopulmonary technician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Wright served on the medical team which cared for President Johnson, and received three letters of commendation.
The radical “God damn America” Mr. Wright is not a product of 1950s segregation, but is clearly instead the result of Wright finishing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard University in the late 1960s, where he undoubtedly found a lifetime supply of leftwing politics and racial grievances.
“Lack of economic opportunity?”
Jeremiah Wright could have earned a very respectable middle-class income as a cardiopulmonary technician, but instead he finished college, acquired a master’s degree in English, then a second master’s in Divinity, and finally a doctorate in Divinity. In addition to being pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, Wright has been a professor at two theological seminaries. He 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 of Directors of Evangelical Health Systems, and on numerous boards and committees of other religious and civic organizations. Wright has received a Rockefeller Fellowship and seven honorary doctorates.
He can expect a comfortable retirement. Ronald Kessler observes:
In retirement, Wright will continue a life of privilege that dates back to Central High. As a retirement gift, Wrightâ€™s Trinity United Church of Christ is building him a million-dollar home abutting Odyssey Country Club and Golf Course in the nearly all-white Chicago suburb of Tinley Park. The home sits on land the pastor purchased in 2004 for $345,000. In December 2006, Wright sold the land to his church, which took out a $1.6 million mortgage on the property. In April 2007, the church applied for a building permit for the brick and stone structure.
Wrightâ€™s new home has 10,340 square feet of space, about four times the size of a typical suburban house. It includes four bedrooms, an elevator, an exercise room, and a four-car garage.